Beginning on November 1, 2017, individuals (including their families) may apply for new health insurance or switch to a different health-care plan through a Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The open enrollment period for 2018 health coverage ends on December 15, 2017.
Individuals can use Health Insurance Marketplaces to compare health plans for benefits and price and to select a plan that fits their needs. Individuals have until December 15, 2017, to enroll in or change plans for new coverage to start January 1, 2018. For those who fail to meet the December 15 deadline, the only way to enroll in a Marketplace health plan is by qualifying for a special enrollment period, which is the 60-day period following certain life events that involve a change in family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other health coverage. Job-based plans must provide a special enrollment period of 30 days. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the open enrollment period to December 31, 2017 for victims of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey who resided in one of the counties that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared eligible for individual or public assistance.
Changes to open enrollment
New HHS regulations included changes to the open enrollment period and requirements for individuals looking to purchase health insurance through Health Insurance Marketplaces. Here is a summary of the changes, effective for 2018:
- The open enrollment period for 2018 is cut in half and runs from November 1 through December 15, 2017. Open enrollment during prior years extended from November 1 to January 31.
- Individuals attempting to enroll during special enrollment periods must provide verification through documentation of a qualifying event. Previously, individuals merely had to attest to changing circumstances that made them eligible to apply during special enrollment periods.
- Some states have elected to extend open enrollment in light of the regulation. In these states, which run their own insurance marketplaces, open enrollment begins on November 1 and extends beyond December 15 as follows: California (1/31/2018); Colorado (1/12/2018); District of Columbia (1/31/2018); Massachusetts (1/23/2018); Minnesota (1/14/2018); New York (1/31/2018); Rhode Island (12/31/2017); and Washington (1/15/2018).
Other changes to the ACA
Some of the significant changes made to the ACA by the Trump administration include the following:
- Insurers are now permitted, but not required, to collect unpaid premiums for prior health insurance coverage before enrolling an applicant in a new health plan.
- Under the ACA, health plans are identified as bronze, silver, gold, and platinum based on the amount of coverage offered and the plan cost. For example, a silver plan was designed to cover at least 70% of a typical person’s medical expenses, while a gold plan would cover 80%. Plans could vary by 2%. The new regulation expands the coverage variation, such that a silver plan can cover between 66% and 72% of an individual’s medical costs.
- Employers are exempt from the mandate requiring birth control coverage in health insurance plans based on the employer’s sincerely held religious beliefs or on moral convictions. Employers that do not provide coverage only need to notify their employees of their decision.
- The President has indicated that the federal government will cease making cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers to reimburse them for discounts they give policyholders with incomes under 250% of the federal poverty level. However, attempts to extend funding by congressional action are being considered.
More changes to come?
The situation regarding health care, particularly the ACA, is very fluid and changing. Attempts to repeal and replace the ACA have failed to date. The President, via executive order, has outlined plans to allow access to association health plans, where small businesses and individuals can group together to buy plans across state lines; expand short-term limited duration health insurance not subject to ACA benefit requirements; and expand the use of health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) by employers to provide workers with tax-free funds to pay for health-care costs, primarily deductibles and copays. Whether and how these proposals come to fruition remains to be seen.