HealthCare.Gov’s Open Enrollment : Health insurance enrollment period opens Saturday

HealthCare.Gov's Open Enrollment : Health insurance enrollment period opens Saturday

As another open enrollment period approaches for the controversial Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration is expecting 9.9 million Americans to enroll in private health plans through state and federal exchanges by next year.

The second open enrollment season begins Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15, 2015. For those who are already enrolled in an insurance plan through the ACA, the benefit year ends Dec. 31. To renew a current plan or choose a new health plan, people need to enroll before Feb. 15. Those who do not have health coverage in 2015 face a fee, which will be higher than in 2014. The fee is 2 percent of a person’s income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child.

The new enrollment form takes up far fewer pages than the old one did. But the costs of penalties for failing to obtain insurance have at least doubled.

And the enrollment website, HealthCare.gov, is expected to work better and faster than during in its clunky rollout in October 2013.

Officials at Fort Wayne’s Neighborhood Health Clinics, a federally approved enrollment assistance agency, say they are prepared for the next round of sign-ups.

“I think we are in a better position than we were last year because we have a better idea of what to expect and how to respond when things do go wrong,” Angie Zaegel, vice president and chief operating officer of NHC, said Thursday.

Cathy Pollick, outreach and enrollment coordinator for NHC, said the computer problems in the first enrollment period demonstrate “that we need to be patient and encourage consumers to be patient as well.”

NHC is a nonprofit health care provider for low-income people. Zaegel said NHC has enrolled 615 people in Affordable Care Act insurance plans, submitted 1,835 applications (some of them resulting in coverage through Medicaid and the Healthy Indiana Plan) and educated or helped 7,538 people.

Along the way, the number of NHC patients with insurance increased from 48 percent in January to 55 percent in October, Zaegel said.

NHC and other groups are offering insurance enrollment information and assistance on four Saturdays: this week, Dec. 13, Jan. 10 and Feb. 14.

Times and locations are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Community Action of Northeast Indiana, 227 E. Washington Blvd.; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ivy Tech Northeast, 3800 N. Anthony Blvd., Room 2310 (Coliseum campus); and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Neighborhood Health Clinics Southeast, 3550 E. Paulding Ave.

People attending should have photo identification, Social Security numbers, income information such as tax statements, health insurance policy numbers and Employee Coverage Forms that are available from www.healthcare.gov.

CANI will provide walk-in assistance from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays and at “Get Covered Events” that it will conduct in cities where it has offices.

NHC will offer insurance information during its “Coffee Talk” from 9 to 11 a.m. on Wednesdays in November at its offices at 1717 S. Calhoun St.

CANI, NHC and Volunteer Center RSVP of Allen County are accepting appointments for enrollment assistance.

“Our emphasis is making sure that people have the information that they need to select the best plan for them from what is available,” Zaegel said, “but also to do a little bit more of the follow-up and the case management to make sure that they successfully complete all the steps, … so that the application is actually approved, because a lot of people fall through the cracks in the process.”

In Fort Wayne, 69 coverage plans are being offered by six companies: Ambetter from MHS, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Assurant Health, MDwise Marketplace, PHP, and UnitedHealthCare.

Most of the available plans are in the bronze and silver categories, which have lower monthly premiums but higher deductibles, or out-of-pocket costs, than plans in the gold and platinum categories.

Pollick said the new enrollment “provides people with more options. But it is harder to narrow it down to what people need based on all the options they are given.”

Filling out an enrollment application takes about an hour at NHC. Pollick said applicants can get a head start by reviewing available plans and costs at HealthCare.gov. She noted that the number of pages of the online application has shrunk from 76 to 17 since the first rollout period.

Insurance prices vary according to income and family size, whether an applicant qualifies for income-based subsidies and where a person lives. The Kaiser Family Foundation has analyzed costs for a 40-year-old nonsmoker earning $30,000 and living in the largest city of each state. Its model shows the monthly premium for the second lowest-cost silver plan would run, after tax credits, from $164 to $208.

That same person living in Fort Wayne would pay $206 a month, according to estimates by HealthCare.gov. That person can choose from 30 silver plans that charge between $203 a month after tax credit, with a $5,000 out-of-pocket deductible, and $403 a month after tax credit, with a $2,000 deductible.

Uninsured adults who do not enroll in an insurance plan can face a fee of 2 percent of their income or penalties of $325 an adult and $162.50 a child, whichever is more.

Amanda Chappell of CANI said in an email that the larger penalties are expected to increase requests for enrollment assistance.

Chappell also said CANI is urging people who enrolled in insurance plans last year to re-enroll by Dec. 15 so they can “re-evaluate their options as the cost and coverage of their current plans could change for 2015.”

Lutheran Health Network offers enrollment assistance to patients as well as to people not requiring immediate medical care. Geoff Thomas, public relations supervisor, said in an email that “fewer members of the general public than what we may have expected during the first year took advantage of these opportunities in advance of their treatment. We hope that changes during the second year.”

The White House has said that more than 8 million Americans obtained medical insurance through the Affordable Care Act in the first enrollment period, including 132,423 residents of Indiana. Nearly 90 percent of Hoosier enrollees qualified for federal subsidies because of their income levels.