Special to the NNPA
Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act began Wednesday, and there are significant changes compared to previous years.
The enrollment period for coverage through the 2018 Federal Health Insurance Exchange will end on Dec. 15. Coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2018. At 45 days, this is the shortest enrollment period in recent years, so those without health care coverage should act immediately.
In order to qualify for federal tax subsidies to offset the rising cost of health insurance premiums, those seeking to apply should go online to http://www.healthcare.gov. Most of those who get their health insurance coverage through the ACA are eligible for what are known as Advanced Premium Tax Subsidies.
In some states, the average ACA health insurance premium is calculated at $662 per month, but after the APT subsidy tax credit kicks in, that comes down to just $129 per month, and in some cases, as low as $87 a month.
Enrollment was down in many states last year. Observers have said one of the reasons for the decrease was uncertainty about the future of the ACA, especially after President Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election after vowing to mothball the federal law, which he and the majority Republican Congress have repeatedly tried but failed to do.
The Trump administration has significantly cut the advertising budget to make more Americans aware of the open enrollment period, in addition to shortening it to just 45 days, hoping to slowly phase it out in the future. It has also cut federal funding to nonprofit groups that traditionally helped low-income residents navigate the process of signing up and qualifying.
Additionally, the White House has discontinued the cost sharing reimbursements to insurance companies to help offset rising premiums to consumers. As a result, premiums across the nation have gone up anywhere from 15 to 21 percent, according to published reports.
Applicants are generally “guaranteed to be insurable and are encouraged to sign up for health insurance” through the Marketplace if: they currently have ACA coverage, but want to change their plan for 2018; they don’t have health insurance through their employer or spouse’s employer; they don’t have government coverage (veterans, Medicaid or Medicare); or they’re older than 26 and are no longer on their parents’ policy.
Failure to obtain health insurance in 2018 will result in a sizable tax penalty, officials warn. For the past two years, the fee has been $695.00 per uninsured adult and $347.00 per uninsured child, or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher.
Other new rules that are now in effect state that insurance companies can now deny coverage to those who owe them money on current coverage. Customers must settle any outstanding balances before being re-enrolled.
People can also be denied the premium tax credit to lower their bill in 2018 if they’re behind in their taxes. To correct this, they can fill out the federal tax reconciliation IRS form 8962 to determine their 2016 taxable income.
For more information, call 1-800-318-2596 or go to http://www.healthcare.gov.
Open enrollment assistance
For individuals needing further assistance, Parkland Health and Hospital System will have certified application counselors available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday in Parkland’s business office to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act and provide help enrolling in the Marketplace. The business office is located on the first floor of the old Parkland OPC, 5201 Harry Hines Blvd.
In collaboration with the Community Council of Greater Dallas, certified health insurance navigators will be available on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the enrollment period at the following Parkland Community Oriented Primary Care health centers to provide enrollment assistance:
• Southeast Dallas Health Center, 9202 Elam Road.
• Hatcher Station Health Center, 4600 Scyene Road.
• Garland Health Center, 802 Hopkins, Garland.
• Irving Health Center, 1800 N. Britain Road, Irving.
Those who may need assistance can contact Parkland’s Customer Service department at 214-590-4900. For more information about Parkland’s services, visit www.parklandhospital.com.