Health insurance sign-up deadline is today

December 15, 2018

From staff and wire reports

HUNTINGTON - The deadline to purchase health insurance on the open Health Insurance Marketplace is Saturday, Dec. 15, for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

Reports from earlier in the week indicated fewer people are signing up for the Affordable Care Act, even though premiums are stable, more plans are available and millions of uninsured people can still get financial help.

Barring an enrollment surge, the nation’s uninsured rate could edge up again after a yearslong coverage expansion that has seen about 20 million people obtain health insurance.

A status report Wednesday from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed nearly 20 percent fewer new people signed up than at about the same time last year. New sign-ups drive the growth of the HealthCare.gov marketplaces, helping keep premiums in check. This is the first year without the individual mandate, which penalized Americans who did not have health insurance.

In West Virginia, 10,199 have signed up for insurance coverage on the marketplace as of Dec. 8. Ohio has had 89,239 sign up and Kentucky, 39,760.

According to data from CMS, most West Virginians are choosing silver level plans, and 91 percent of those silver plan buyers qualified for some form of a tax credit. With the credit, the average premium is $181 a month. The same plan with tax credits last year averaged $154.

While the size of the credit varies based on income as well, around 85 percent of buyers nationwide qualify for a tax credit to some degree.

Highmark is the only insurer in the marketplace to cover all 55 counties in West Virginia, while CareSource covers 32 counties including Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mason, Putnam and Logan locally.

Established under the ACA in 2013, the Health Insurance Marketplace is an aggregation of plans where a person not insured by other means, such as an employer, Medicaid or the Veterans Administration, can purchase private insurance.

Trying to encourage enrollment, former President Barack Obama posted a whimsical video on social media Monday encouraging young adults to sign up for his signature program. That same day, a crush of people tried to enroll in what was the highest traffic this open enrollment season.

Disappointing sign-ups will add to the long-running political blame game over health care. Democrats accuse the Trump administration of “sabotage” on the health law. Republicans counter that pricey Obama-law premiums are too high for solid middle-class people who don’t qualify for taxpayer-financed subsidies.

The Trump administration said in a statement this week that “our primary goal is to provide a seamless open enrollment experience for HealthCare.gov consumers and ensure that those who want coverage offered through the (program) can enroll in a plan.” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also posted his own straightforward video pitch on Twitter.

Free, public resources are available for connecting West Virginians with the health care options available. Local assistance can be reached over the phone through WV NaviCare, West Virginia’s own health insurance helpline, at 844-WV-CARES (844-982-2737). Consultations may be made over the phone.

For those planning to browse the marketplace, WV NaviCare advises the most important piece of information to first have on hand is an estimation of their 2019 income. This is because plans are priced based on a household’s income and family size and also because it helps calculate a monthly tax credit that can be used toward payment.

Update hourly