By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Just days before the end of open enrollment on Healthcare.gov, national and state officials are encouraging Kentuckians to sign up for federally subsidized health insurance. The deadline is Saturday, Dec. 15.
|Renee Ellmers (Dept. of HHS photo)|
“Our hope is that we can encourage people to go on to the site earlier rather than later,” Renee Ellmers, Southeast regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a telephone interview that the agency requested with Kentucky Health News to discuss the final days of open enrollment.
Ellmers added that because there is always a danger of something going wrong on the 15th, especially when it involves technology, it’s important to not procrastinate.
“So, anyone who is considering either renewing their ACA [Affordable Care Act] plan or looking for a different plan or maybe they don’t have health care at all, going to Healthcare.gov sooner rather than later is really the best way to ensure that they have a plan that will be right for them,” she said.
Getting the word out about open enrollment has primarily fallen to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. But this year, for the first time, Ellmers said regional HHS directors have joined CMS’s efforts as a way “to amplify the message” during the last two weeks of open enrollment.
She said this late push for enrollment is primarily to make sure that anyone who wants coverage is aware of the deadline and to instill in them a sense of urgency to sign up. The Trump administration has been criticized for eliminating advertising to encourage enrollment and greatly cutting funding for assistance to people who want to enroll.
So far, enrollment numbers are down this year. A CMS snapshot of the first five weeks of the six-week enrollment period showed that enrollment compared to the same time last year was down by about 400,000 nationwide and by about 6,000 in Kentucky. However, these numbers didn’t include people who will be automatically enrolled if they already have a plan.
In Kentucky, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has also made a last-ditch effort to inform Kentuckians of the Dec. 15 deadline.
“Individuals who do not currently have a qualified health plan from the exchange and fail to act by the Saturday deadline cannot receive 2019 coverage unless they qualify for a special enrollment period,” the cabinet warns in the Dec. 11 news release.
It notes that more than 80 percent of Kentuckians who sign up on the federal exchange will qualify for a tax credit or subsidy to reduce their monthly health insurance payments. And that while premiums have gone up this year in Kentucky, most enrollees’ costs will be about the same because the credits are calculated to offset the premium increases.
The release also encourages everyone who has health insurance though the federal exchange to update their application, even if they have current coverage they are happy with.
Also released Tuesday was a Kaiser Family Foundation report that shows how many of the uninsured could purchase a federal marketplace plan for free. It found that of the 5.4 percent of Kentuckians who don’t have any health insurance, 26 percent, or 29,509, could have free health insurance after tax credits if they choose a bronze plan, which offers the minimum level of coverage available on Healthcare.gov.
Where can I find help?
The state-based call center is available at 855-459-6328 to help assist Kentuckians with where to go for coverage, answer questions and pre-screen for eligibility. The Healthcare.gov customer service center (800-318-2596) is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Application assisters are also available in every county to provide in-person assistance, and they are free. To find an assister or insurance agent near you, log on to: www.HealthBenefitExchange.ky.gov.
Click here to see a list of outreach events in each county.
Healthcare.gov/see-plans/ provides a shopping tool to allow you to preview 2019 plans and estimated prices before you log in.
The Kaiser Family Foundation also offers a Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator to provide estimates of health insurance premiums and subsidies for people purchasing insurance on their own on Healthcare.gov. It allows you to enter your income, age and family size to estimate your eligibility for subsidies and how much you should spend on health insurance. It will also allow you to see if you qualify for Medicaid, which in Kentucky is available to people in households with annual income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That number is $16,753 for individuals, $22,715 for a couple and $34,638 for a family of four.