By Steve Dorfman
If you’re in the market for a new health insurance plan, your best chance to get it is coming up fast. The federal Health Insurance Marketplace’s open enrollment period hits in the fourth quarter of 2018. Absent an excuse, most consumers who wish to change health plans in 2019 must do so during open enrollment.
Don’t worry. Hundreds of thousands of healthcare consumers are in the same boat as you right now. All have questions about the open enrollment process.
Fortunately, the answers are right out in the open. Let’s take a look at the open enrollment period for 2019, including a rundown of key changes to federal healthcare policy moving forward.
When Is Open Enrollment, Anyway?
First, a review of terms. “Open enrollment” describes the period during which healthcare consumers without a qualifying excuse may enroll in new plans on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.
The federal open enrollment period runs from November 1 to December 15, 2018. Bear in mind that some state-run exchanges have extended open enrollment periods for the 2019 healthcare year. If you live in a state with its own exchange, you’ll want to check with your state health department for details.
Some healthcare consumers may qualify for a special enrollment period — that is, enrollment outside the open enrollment period due to extenuating circumstances. Those circumstances may include, but are not limited to:
- Loss of qualifying health coverage due to job loss, loss of Medicaid or Medicare eligibility, loss of coverage purchased on the individual market, or loss of coverage obtained through a family member
- A geographic move to a location where health insurance options are different (not necessarily across state lines)
- Life changes, such as marriage, divorce, birth, or the death of someone on your existing healthcare plan
Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, let’s take a look at some key health policy changes and non-changes for 2019.
The Exchanges Are Sticking Around (But Experience Varies by State)
Contrary to what you may have heard, Obamacare has not been repealed. You can still purchase coverage through state and federal exchanges. If you live in a state with its own exchange, check with its health department for details about your eligibility and options.
Subsidies Remain in Place
Health insurance subsidies remain in place for lower-earning individuals and families. Your eligibility may vary; check healthcare.gov for information relevant to your specific situation.
Rate Changes Vary by Location
Depending on your location, you may find that premiums for the health insurance plans for which you’re eligible have risen or fallen this year. Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to predict which way they’ll move until they’re announced.
The Tax Penalty Is No More
One big health policy change for the 2019 tax year: individuals who fail to procure ACA-compliant coverage are no longer on the hook for a tax penalty. Technically speaking, the coverage mandate remains in place, but the nonexistent tax penalty and lack of criminal liability renders it toothless.
What to Do Now
Now that you know what to expect from Obamacare open enrollment for the 2019 season, it’s time to buckle down and begin evaluating your options. Remember, every healthcare market is different: in some places, much has changed since last year, while in others, things are more or less as they were. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to seize whatever opportunities lie out in the wide world of health coverage.