If you have been in the market for 2018 Health Care coverage, Friday, December 15th is the last day to enroll in coverage via Colorado’s Health Care Exchange, ConnectForHealthCO, to get a January 1st effective date.

While congress is currently proposing modifications to the Act as part of the Tax Reform Bill, no changes to current regulations have been instituted, so all requirements are still in place.

Connect for Health Colorado was established by the state as the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health care exchange (an alternate to the Federal site: Healthcare.gov) when the Act was implemented in 2013. From the launch, the website was challenged with numerous technical issues, causing enrollment headaches for users. Over the years, improvements have been made and it is now much easier to use than had been previously experienced.

I recently sat through a friend’s enrollment, witnessing the process first hand and found it to be both straightforward and user-friendly. The new enrollee’s first step is to register and submit an online application for Medicaid, using past and future income information as a basis for determination. If approved, the enrollee obtains coverage through the State of Colorado’s Medicaid program and their site tour ends at this step. The application results came back quickly, and, since he was not approved for Medicaid, we continued onward. You next calculate the subsidy amount for which you are eligible, again using past and future anticipated earnings. Once calculated, the amount follows you on to the plan election page, where you choose your carrier and coverage level.

My friend’s subsidy was surprisingly helpful when applied to the array of plan offerings, from the basic,more catastrophic, bronze plan, to the higher cost, lower out of pocket, silver and gold plans. Ultimately, he selected a plan he felt was right for him, and at a pretty reasonable cost. Once enrolled, he was required to make his first payment to the carrier, which binds the coverage. All told, I think it took about two hours for us to complete the enrollment, so if you have been procrastinating, there is definitely still time!

We recently asked Jen Fanning and Kim Long with Grand County Rural Health Network to share answers to the most frequently asked questions and information regarding ACA coverage.

Q: There is so much change right now. What is fact?

A:  Facts about Health Insurance:

  • Nationally, open enrollment ends December 15, 2017. But this does not impact us in Colorado.
  • Colorado’s open enrollment period ends January 12, 2018 (for February 1st coverage). Colorado has its own insurance marketplace—www.connectforhealthco.com.
  • The ACA is still law and tax penalties will still apply. If you do not have insurance in 2018, you will be penalized financially when you file your taxes.

These are the facts, but there are a lot of questions floating around about open enrollment and possible changes to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Our health coverage guide, Kim Long, has heard them all and the answers vary.

Q:  Are premiums affordable?

A:  It depends on individual circumstances. Below are random examples of this fall’s enrollment experiences:

  1. Bob brought in a letter from Connect for Health stating that the premiums he pays “full premium minus the Premium Tax Credit amount” will “go down by 20% on average in 2018.” However, when he enrolled, Bob found that his premiums with his tax credit actually increased—by a lot. The reality is that the Western Slope (which includes Grand County) has some of the highest insurance premiums in the country. Unfortunately, the letter Bob received applies mainly to the Front Range because the majority of Coloradans live in the Front Range and have this experience. Do not expect premium reductions here.
  2. Jane called Kim Long because as a single mother of two children, she couldn’t afford the premiums she was seeing online. With tax credits, her cheapest option was $850 a month for a bronze plan for her family of three. While cheaper than what Bob was seeing, it was still too expensive for Jane who pays $800 a month for her mortgage and barely scrapes by. Unfortunately, Jane and her family will go uninsured next year and a pay the penalty of 2.5% of her gross income when she files her 2018 taxes.
  3. At the opposite end of the spectrum, George and Mary received a higher tax credit this year that makes plans affordable for them. In fact, they had bronze plan options with $0 premiums and very affordable rates for a silver cost-sharing plan. While the bronze plan had no monthly premium, it had a higher deductible and could cost them more out-of-pocket over the year. Kim helped them look at the overall costs and decide what makes the most sense for them based on their monthly income and day-to-day healthcare needs.

Q:  Can I just auto-renew?

A:  A lot of people have been able to auto-renew their 2017 policy for 2018 coverage. If you have this option, be sure to read your renewal letter carefully—your premiums may have increased. If you have already renewed, it is not too late to make changes. For instance, if you cannot afford the increased premium of your silver plan, there may be a bronze plan available at the same price as your current silver plan. Just remember that your total out-of-pocket expenses may go up with the switch.

Q:  What about Medicaid and Medicare enrollment?

A:  Joe saw on the news that Obamacare enrollment was ending on December 15. He called for an appointment because he has Medicaid. Enrollment for Medicaid, however, is year-round. Since Joe had enrolled in August, he did not need to worry at this time. Kim instructed Joe to call when he receives renewal information, or, if his income increases and he loses his Medicaid coverage.

Medicare has its own deadlines. When Edna called for help in purchasing a supplemental plan, Kim connected her to our region’s Medicare counselor who could walk Edna through her options.

Q:  Is it too late to get coverage?

A:  If you have not yet enrolled for 2018 health insurance coverage, there is still time, and, there is still help available. Kim Long will be assisting people in person through the January 12 deadline with Connect for Health Colorado enrollment. You can reach Kim at (970) 531-4769.

You can also call Connect for Health at (855) 752-6749, or, visit their website at www.connectforhealthco.com. Connect users have seen reduced wait times on the phone, improved customer service, and a smoother online process this enrollment period.

Finally, if you do not qualify for advanced payment tax credits due to your income, you can contact an insurance broker directly. For broker information, contact Grand County Rural Health Network at (970) 725-3477, or, Connect for Health Colorado.

If you are considering going without health insurance and haven’t yet investigated the Connect for Health options, I urge you to reconsider. With over 178,000 Coloradans currently covered, there could very well be an option that meets your needs, but, you won’t know unless you explore the process! You can read more about last year’s enrollment here: Connect for Health 2016 Enrollment Report