Despite uncertainty about its future, the fifth national enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare started November 1 and its supporters are hoping that people will renew their plans or sign up for new ones.
Unable to dismantle it with legislation, Republicans lawmakers and the Trump White House have been seeking to sabotage it. One way is by reducing the amount of federal funding by 90 percent needed to promote the enrollment period.
Advocates of the ACA say that the Trump Administration may be seeking to discourage people from signing up to further erode the strength of the state marketplaces.
But ardent backers of the ACA are forging ahead nationally, in Virginia and Hampton Roads seeking to inspire more people to sign-up.
The Trump administration efforts’ to weaken the enrollment appeal has taken various forms. The most obvious one is the shortening the enrollment period. Since its inception in 2010, during the Obama administration, the enrollment period was three months.
Now, according to ACA advocates the sign up period is only six weeks for people to apply for the first time or renew their coverage.
Gaylene Kanoyton runs the CelebrateHealth campaigns which have led the effort to enroll consumers and educate them about the ACA in Hampton Roads.
During this year’s abbreviated enrollment period, Kanoughton said she will organize at least 10 events which will enable people to get information about ACA insurance plans, re-enrollment or enrollment for the first time.
Individuals who are seeking to enroll via the healthcare.Gov website or calling to talk to a customer service person, will only be able to do so Monday through Saturdays.
The website be shut down Sundays for “maintenance,” according to Kanoughton.
Navigators are tasked with assisting and guiding consumers in their quest to choose programs or modify them to their needs. Last year, there were three of them in the Hampton Roads area; this year there is only one.
Kanoughton said there is no automatic enrollment system so people have to renew their plans on their own. In the Virginia Marketplace, there are five insurance companies in different regions of the state.
In Hampton Roads, Optima is the only one and it offers two plans.
Kanoughton said that Cost Sharing Reduction (CSRs) used by the federal government to help insurance companies lower out of pocket costs for consumers exists.
This despite the Trump Administration’s threat to cancel them and destabilize state marketplaces, she said. She said the subsidies will stay in place until 2020 if there are no drastic changes to the ACA by Congress or the Trump White House. She said that four out of five people are eligible for subsidies.
Individuals who have an income of over $12,060 according to the income and benefit formula are eligible for the government ‘Subsidies” which help consumers pay co-pays and deductibles, said Kanoyton. These subsidies, she said, will rise.
Kanoyton held her first two enrollment and education events on November 1 at Norfolk’s Norview High School, and several says later, in Hampton at the Boo Williams Sports Complex.
“We enrolled a millennial who, when we did all the math will paid a 68 cents premium,” said Kanoyton. “A couple who supported Trump, who complained about the ACA, will pay instead of $1,000 in premiums only $368. The wife thought because she was a woman she would be paying more. She was so excited.”
Kanoyton urged consumers “not to wait” until the last minute to sign up. They will not have an opportunity to sign up unless they experience a “change of life” situation such as the loss of a spouse, employment or healthcare provided by employer.
She said that the shortened sign up period is taking place during the fall holiday season and the Medicaid enrollment period and people may easily lose sight of the December 15 deadline.
If you sign up by December 15, your plan will be in effect on January 1.
She said that despite the Trump Administration’s criticism of it and efforts to abolish it, the tax penalty for not signing up for ACA is still in place.
The mandated tax penalty was put in place to assure that a broad range of individuals would sign up for the ACA and have a larger pool of individuals to pay into the system to lower cost in theory.
To sign up for the ACA or renew your plans go to www.healthcare.gov or call (757) 287-0277.
By Leonard E. Colvin