Open enrollment for 2018 coverage under the Affordable Care Act begins Nov. 1, but consumers will have half as long to enroll as they’ve had in previous years.
And that, combined with other recent changes to the ACA, also known as Obamacare, could result in fewer people being covered, advocates say.
The enrollment period runs through Dec. 15, which is six weeks shorter than usual, said Shelli Quenga, director of programs for the Palmetto Project, a nonprofit that helps answer consumer questions and enroll people in insurance. Last year, she said, the project assisted almost 80,000 people.
The Trump administration said it shortened the enrollment period to better align with open enrollment for Medicare and employer-sponsored coverage, she said.
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Quenga also said that the website www.healthcare.gov will be shut down from midnight to noon Eastern time every Sunday but the last one, as well as overnight on the first day of enrollment. The Trump administration said the weekly shut-downs are for site maintenance, she said.
More than 12 million people enrolled in marketplace plans this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Some 183,506 South Carolinians were enrolled in an Obamacare plan as of June 2, down from 216,616 last year, according to the state Department of Insurance. The numbers reflect all those who’ve paid premiums for a plan, DOI spokeswoman Ann Roberson said.
Factors contributing to the decline include a loss of insurers – BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina is the only carrier this year and next – higher premiums, dropping coverage once a medical need has been met, and getting a job that offers insurance, she said.
Premiums are expected to increase an average of 31 percent this year, Quenga said, adding, “Even $25 is a lot for someone taking home $1,000 a month.”
Other problems this year include a steep cut to ACA’s advertising budget, and a 54-percent cut to the budget for in-person enrollment navigators, leaving the project with $501,000 instead of $1 million, or 30 navigators instead of 62, and the counties they work in from all 46 to 17, she said.
The project recently learned that regional Health and Human Services offices will not offer any support for enrollment either, she said..
Sue Berkowitz, executive director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, said the center will hold a Facebook live series on Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. called “Ask a Navigator” designed to answer consumer questions. Other efforts will be launched as well, she said.
“After everything going on up in Washington about the ACA and whether it still exists, outreach is always important. I think it will have an impact because there’s so much confusion,” she said. “We will be working with those who do care about access in South Carolina to do everything we can to get information to consumers.”
Greenville County consumers can get free bilingual help enrolling at New Horizon Family Health Services in Greenville, Greer and Travelers Rest.
For an appointment, call (864) 233-1534 ext. 2219, and for more information, or to nhfhsACAinfo@newhorizonfhs.org.
For more information about the plans and rates available this year, go to http://doi.sc.gov/798/Affordable-Care-Act