Thursday marks the beginning of the sixth year of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. People can buy or renew health insurance plans on the marketplace through mid-December.
There’s some good news for consumers that were hit hardest by premium increases in the past. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina reduced premiums an average of 4.1 percent across the state. In the Charlotte and Gastonia areas, the premium decreases could be as much as 16.5 percent.
The specifics will vary based on the tax credits people qualify for. The insurer covers about 90 percent of the 519,803 people who got a plan on the marketplace last year. Cigna Healthcare is again selling plans in the Raleigh area this year and there’s a new entrant selling plans in the Triangle market, Ambetter of North Carolina.
Julieanne Taylor is with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, which offers free assistance to people signing up for health insurance. Even though it’s the sixth year of open enrollment, she finds people still need help navigating the process.
“Being someone that meets with consumers regularly on the ground. I can say that it continues to be a confusing and challenging process for many people," said Taylor. "Estimating their income, if they have varying incomes. Things change, some people may lost a job or gain a job. And then they need to know what are my options?”
There are some changes to the Affordable Care Act this year. There is no longer a tax penalty if you don’t have insurance and people can now buy short-term limited duration plans for nearly a year. But these plans aren’t required to have the same kind of coverage. For example, United Healthcare is offering short-term plans in Mecklenburg County for a low monthly rate, but some of those don’t cover prescriptions.
Taylor points out after research on the short-term plans offered in the Mecklenburg County area, she found they may not end up being cheaper for certain consumers.
“If somebody qualifies for financial assistance versus a short term limited duration plan," Taylor said, "The marketplace plan ends up being less expensive and has a lower deductible."
Open enrollment goes through Dec. 15.