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News Feature

State of Maine
Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 2, 2017 and Island Ad-Vantages, November 2, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, November 2, 2017
Heath care ‘open enrollment’ period cut but otherwise business as usual
Subsidies ‘relatively’ intact

by Anne Berleant

Those wishing to re-enroll or enroll for the first time in the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” face a shorter time period in which to do so, from November 1 through December 15, half the window of previous years. Plans take effect January 1, 2018.

“People receiving subsidies will come out relatively whole. There may be some escalation, but I haven’t seen anything dramatic,” according to licensed ACA navigator Lynn Cheney of Blue Hill. “I am concerned about people not getting subsidies, earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level. There is some good double digit increases there.”

Anyone without health coverage through their job or through Medicare or MaineCare may enroll, or if an employer-offered insurance plan costs more than 9.69 percent of total household income. Tax credits are available based on income towards the monthly premiums and, on some plans and for some income levels, for out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and copayments. Plans, prices and subsidies can be found at healthcare.gov, the site to enroll, renew or cancel coverage.

If you are currently enrolled in a plan and do nothing, your coverage will automatically renew, with premiums changed per the insurance company’s 2018 rates. The general advice from all corners is for those currently enrolled to shop around before renewing coverage.

What are the changes?

Despite attempts by the current White House administration to repeal and re-legislate, coverage through the Affordable Care Act remains law. However, President Trump issued an executive order on October 12 stopping federal cost-sharing, which subsidized deductibles and co-payments on some plans for those who qualified. However, cost-sharing is still law and will continue, with insurance companies covering that gap.

“A lot of the increase in premiums has been because the insurance companies expected the cost sharing expenses would come out of their pocket as opposed to the federal government,” Cheney said.

Any new types of coverage, such as catastrophic coverage, that doesn’t fulfill ACA requirements, have not yet been put in place. “There may be new plans added,” Cheney said, noting this would be the first time new plans were added after open enrollment began.

In addition, at the end of August, the White House announced a 90 percent cut to the advertising budget for open enrollment in the ACA, and there will also be a Sunday shutdown of healthcare.gov except for December 10, the last Sunday in the open enrollment period.

Navigators offer free help

Cheney has volunteered her services guiding prospective enrollees through the process of getting coverage through ACA since 2014, the first year such coverage was offered.

“I’ve talked with several hundred people on the Blue Hill Peninsula,” she said. “Maine is not the land of the W2. There are a lot of self employed people around. To see a young farmer family with a couple of children get meaningful coverage and not worry about an accident ruining [or] bankrupting them has been very satisfying.”

Cheney can be reached at 374-9919 to set up an appointment. A second, experienced volunteer navigator is Brooksville resident Kevin Hart, who can be reached at 326-0879.