Health care enrollment is now underway
For most people, premiums will be ‘fairly stable’
Open enrollment in Maryland started Nov. 1 for health plans under the Affordable Care Act. Health officials advise those in need of coverage to review the plans and shop around in the next 45 days.
There are talks about rates increasing, but the rates for most people insured under the ACA are going to be “fairly stable,” said Dr. Laurence Polsky, Calvert County’s health officer. “People should not be dissuaded from signing up or looking at the policies.”
The two insurers that are offering plans in 2018
in the state — CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente — will be raising some of their health care premiums next year. The increase is tied to the White House’s decision to stop funding cost-sharing reductions, namely payments that reimburse insurers for lowering deductibles and copays for lower-income enrollees.
Polsky asks people in Southern Maryland not to make assumptions about their rates because of the recent change from the federal government.
The cost-sharing subsidy change only affects people with silver plans, he said. Also, those affected by the change may qualify for increased financial assistance to offset some of their out-ofpocket cost.
Lisa Milburn, field manager of Seedco’s Southern Region that covers the tri-county area, said people should know that although premiums have increased, that doesn’t necessarily mean an individual or a family will pay more out of pocket. Seedco, a national nonprofit agency, partnered with Maryland to help people navigate its health care exchange in several counties, including St. Mary’s.
As premiums rise, some may be eligible for more tax credits, which would offset some of the plan cost, she said. After factoring in the increased financial assistance, there may be “not that a big difference” in terms of the final cost.
Another change that people should keep in mind is that the enrollment season this year is cut in half from three months to the 45 days from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
In previous years, people could enroll until the end of January, Polsky said. This year, however, “if they wait beyond Dec. 15, they won’t be able to enroll or re-enroll.”
For those who are eligible for Medicaid, they can enroll year-round.
Polsky said about a third of people who get insurance through ACA are small-business employers buying insurance for their employees. One third are insured under Medicaid.
The rest purchase individual plans through Maryland Health Connections, the state’s healthcare exchange. For this group, Polsky said about one out of five may see their premiums
go up about 30 percent.
But the majority of enrollees will not see a significant increase, he said. If they look into the plans, they may find a new plan comparable or even cheaper than a year ago.
“The plans may change. Plans offered last year may not be offered this year,” Milburn said. “You never know.”
If the policyholder does nothing, they will be automatically re-enrolled in
their current plan or transitioned into a different plan if the current plan no longer exists, she said. Now is the time for people to review their plans and make sure they are up to date on any likely changes coming up.
“We always encourage people to come back so nothing is a surprise,” Milburn said. On average, an appointment takes about one hour.
Last year, people from
the tri-county area made 22,278 enrollments, including any new or repeated enrollments that were completed online, over the phone, with an insurance broker or an agency worker, according to Milburn.
Consumers in the region are encouraged to contact Seedco at 855339-3007 to schedule a free, in-person appointment with a navigator to shop or revisit their
plans. St. Mary’s residents can also visit the county’s health department in Leonardtown, or either of the St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services offices in Leonardtown or Lexington Park for assistance.
People can enroll on the state exchange’s website at www.marylandhealthconnection.gov or download a free mobile app called Enroll MHC.