Thousands more South Carolinians are signing up for health insurance next year under the embattled Affordable Care Act, but health experts worry if that’s enough.
As of Dec. 2, 84,868 South Carolinians have enrolled in insurance plans for next year through the health market exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, according to numbers compiled by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That is a 21 percent increase over the same period last year.
Those numbers are encouraging for those who expected a rocky sign-up period this year due to large cuts in funding for health-care navigators to assist consumers in signing up, advertising for the exchanges and payments to insurance companies.
But some experts worry that health shoppers have less time this year — more than a month less time — to sign up. Last year, customers had until the end of January to find a new plan. In President Donald Trump’s first year in office, plans have to be finalized by Friday, Dec. 15.
“My phone has been ringing non-stop, and my email inbox is flooded with messages,” said Sharita Moultrie, the community health specialist at the Richland Library, which had signed up 200 people for coverage as of this week.
By the end of January 2017, 230,000 South Carolinians had signed up for a plan during the open enrollment period. Then, as now, the sign-up period opened on Nov. 1.
Some expect many customers are waiting for their current plans to automatically renew, but warn that’s a risk with the new schedule.
Previously, when customers were auto-enrolled in mid-December, shoppers still had another month to make changes if their new plan was too expensive and to ensure they had all the subsidies for which they were eligible.
Now, 2018 plans will be locked in when the enrollment period closes at midnight next Friday.
“When people get their notice, it will be too late to make any changes,” said Shelli Quenga, program director for the non-profit Palmetto Project.
“The worse thing you can do is just assume you will roll over,” said Rozalynn Goodwin with the S.C. Hospital Association.
Anyone who hasn’t chosen a plan yet – or who wants a second opinion – is encouraged to speak to a health-care navigator by calling (888) 998-4646 or by visiting SignUpSC.org.
Moultrie’s program at the Richland Library offers in-person consultations at all branches, which can be scheduled by calling (803) 231-6330 or going to richlandlibrary.com/getcovered.
From noon to midnight on Dec. 15, help in signing up also will be available at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia for last-minute health-care shoppers.
But the sooner you can sign up, experts say, the better.
“The HealthCare.gov website can be confusing,” said insurance consultant Joel Lourie. “But if you talk to a professional who knows what they’re doing, enrollment takes about 10 minutes.”
HEALTH CARE IN SC
85,000 Have signed up for health coverage in S.C. since Nov. 1
70,000 Had signed up at a similar point in 2016
230,000 People in SC had signed up by the end of 2016-17 enrollment