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6 Major Changes to This Year’s Health Insurance Open Enrollment Period

The health insurance Open Enrollment Period for 2018 lasts only 45 days.

Despite efforts from the federal government to reform the Affordable Care Act, the 2018 health insurance Open Enrollment Period – the time when Americans can change Obamacare health insurance plans or a join a new plan for the upcoming year – will still begin on November 1, 2017. But this has left most Americans confused about how this year’s open enrollment differs from the previous three.

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Unlike previous Open Enrollment Periods, which each occurred over a 90-day window, this year’s open enrollment will last just 45 days – starting on November 1 and lasting until December 15. The shortened timeframe means Americans will have less time to make decisions about their healthcare. While some U.S. states have extended the enrollment period for their individual state exchanges (notably, California and New York), most states will follow the condensed 45-day enrollment window.

There are several major changes to the open enrollment process in addition to the condensed 45-day enrollment window. It’s likely that many consumers will be caught off-guard, as these changes to open enrollment have not been well publicized. HealthCare.com cofounder and CEO, Howard Yeh, explains how these open enrollment changes may affect consumers and the coverage options available to them.

1. Changes to Re-Enrollment:

“In previous enrollment periods, people were provided with several government notices to compare their current plan with other healthcare plans on the Marketplace,” says Yeh. “This year, it’s unclear whether consumers will be provided those notices. That’s why it’s important to shop around for a different health insurance plan during open enrollment. If consumers don’t compare their plan options, they run the risk of being re-enrolled in the same plan after the enrollment period has already passed. If their current plan’s monthly premium is set to increase, they may get stuck with a plan that doesn’t fit their needs, or is otherwise unaffordable.”

2. The End of Subsidies Towards Cost-Sharing Reductions:

“The Trump administration has decided to stop financing cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies to insurance companies. Most insurers predicted this and, as a result, raised the prices for Silver plans (the only plans for which these cost-sharing reductions were made available). This means higher insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for some. This also means, though, that people in some areas of the country may encounter Gold and Platinum plans that cost just as much or even less than Silver plans.”

3. Fewer Insurers, Fewer Options:

“Several insurers have filled in the gaps left by the exit of major insurance companies like Aetna and Anthem from the Marketplace. While this ensures that consumers across the country have healthcare options available to them, the options are significantly slimmer than those in previous years. In many areas of the country, only one ACA health plan option will be available to consumers – and with costlier premiums that may be prohibitive for many.”

4. Higher Costs Overall:

“Costs for ACA plans overall will be higher compared to previous years – with insurers charging, on average, 20 percent more on premiums. These costs have outpaced income growth, leading to a unique affordability gap – where people make too much to qualify for Obamacare tax credits, but make too little to actually afford a Bronze plan. Under the law, those unable to afford a Bronze plan are exempt from paying the penalty for not having health insurance (referred to as the “Marketplace affordability exemption”). This year, we expect more than 1.5 million people to qualify for that exemption – a significant increase from the 600,000 two years ago.

5. Less Government Assistance:

“The federal government has also slashed funding for different initiatives intended to encourage and support people enrolling in Marketplace coverage. Notably, there will be less help available from ‘navigators’ (unbiased guides who are trained to help people navigate the Obamacare exchanges), and government spending on Obamacare outreach and advertising is now virtually nonexistent. This means it’s up to consumers to actively seek out help when signing up – and it’s up to nonprofit organizations and private companies to step up and make sure consumers get the information they need.”

6. Decrease in Participation Due to Rise of Alternatives to Traditional Health Insurance:

“Motivated by increasing costs and limited options, more consumers are moving towards alternatives to ACA health insurance. Relatively unknown healthcare options, like association plans and faith-based healthcare, are becoming more popular. And people may start using short-term health insurance plans – which typically serve as temporary coverage solutions – as full-time replacements to traditional coverage, especially since the president’s executive order now allows these plans to last up to a year (compared to the previous limit of three months).”

Taking the Next Steps

Approximately 20 million people will shop for health insurance during this Open Enrollment Period. If you’re shopping for healthcare coverage on your own, check out HealthCare.com to see what Marketplace and off-Marketplace plans are available to you.

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Search our database of individual health insurance plans at HealthCare.com.

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Ronald Barba: Ronald is the director of content & community at HealthCare.com. Formerly the managing editor at startup publication Tech.Co, he knows a thing or two about tech and startups. In his free time, he likes to read books, go on hikes, and rock climb. He also enjoys cooking and woodworking. Love or hate this story? Let him know: rbarba@healthcare.com Follow him on Twitter: @ronaldpbarba.

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