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5 Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for Open Enrollment

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HealthCare.com’s tips on what you can do to prepare for open enrollment (because, yes, Obamacare still exists…for now).

As healthcare becomes more expensive, convoluted, and politically contentious, it can feel like more is at stake in the decisions we’re forced to make during open enrollment period. If you thought choosing a new insurance plan was stressful enough, this year’s headache will be compounded by a time crunch in light of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) decision to shorten the length of next year’s 2018 open-enrollment period from three months to 45 days.

Obamacare

With a number of prominent insurers opting out of Obamacare marketplaces in 2018, some U.S. regions are at risk of having just one plan to choose from–or zero plan options–on the individual marketplace. When the ACA originally became law in 2010 no one anticipated that Obamacare plans would be unavailable in certain geographic areas. As a result, an uncertain fate awaits people who want individual coverage, but who live in an area where Obamacare markets are thin. Those who qualify for a subsidy and reside in a state with only one plan available on the Marketplace will have to buy that plan; if the cost of that one plan is an amount exceeding 8.13% of their taxable income, they will be exempt from the requirement to purchase a health insurance plan.

…So Much For Choice

But what happens if no plans are available–especially for those who had been depending on Obamacare for coverage? How should these people proceed during the upcoming open enrollment period? Would there still be a penalty for not buying insurance? Unfortunately, there is not a precise answer — it has never happened — but most believe  there would be no penalty. Currently, a proposal in Congress introduced by Tennessee Senators Alexander and Corker (Tennessee is a state where the Obamacare Marketplace is thinning) that would allow consumers who have no plan options at their avail to receive a subsidy for short-term medical insurance, or another kind of non-ACA plan. Still, the proposal is not yet a law and it is in consumers’ best interest to at least buy some sort of coverage — and short-term medical is usually the best option.

Open enrollment’s a bitch if you live where it’s yellow or light blue.

Open Enrollment Dates: November 1, 2017 – December 15, 2017

The open-enrollment dates for 2018 are from November 1, 2017 to December 15, 2017. With less time to procrastinate and to parse out the differences among plan options, it’s important that you prepare for open enrollment now so that you’re more equipped to make a knowledgeable decision come November. But don’t freak out just yet; we’ve compiled a handy guide detailing a list of steps you can take now and in the months ahead to get ready.

Things You Can Do to Prepare for Open Enrollment

After reading our tips on how to prepare for open enrollment, you’ll feel more informed and knowledgeable about healthcare options available to you. Better yet, you’ll feel confident about your ability to select the plan best-suited to your needs.

  1. Consider the past year.

    Make a list of what you spent on healthcare, accounting for all doctors’ visits, prescription drug costs, and medical care. Once you have a better idea of what your healthcare needs are and how much it costs to cover them, it’ll be easier to compare and distinguish among different plans.

  2. Consider the future.

    Will your healthcare and medical needs in the coming year mirror last year’s? If you have any new diagnoses requiring care, are planning a pregnancy, or are expecting to undergo surgery, you’ll want to account for that.

  3. Drug Test Yourself

    If you take prescriptions, make a list of each medication and check your list against the “formulary”—the list of approved medications—under each plan option. Most plans divide drugs into a hierarchy of cost tiers.

  4. Get your ducks in a row.

    Before you purchase health insurance, you’ll want to gather some information about your household income and have at your fingertips the social security numbers and birth dates for each member of your family you plan to insure. Look over your finances and decide how you want to pay your monthly premiums – and be prepared with that payment information.

  5. Assess your current financial situation.

    Deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums exist to help you avoid catastrophe. You should be able to afford their expenses in the event that you need to pay them. Make sure you can afford to pay your preferred plan’s deductible amount (and then some); you never know if something unexpected will happen and it’s best to be prepared.

Erica Block: Erica Block is an Editorial Fellow at HealthCare.com, where she gets to combine her interest in healthcare policy with her penchant for creating online content. When she isn't reading or writing, Erica can be found wandering around Brooklyn, playing softball, or listening to podcasts. She counts music, rescue dogs, and lumberjack sports among her greatest passions. Follow Erica on Twitter: @EricaDaleBlock

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