The lion’s share of attention relating to the Affordable Care Act in recent weeks has been on whether it will survive the efforts of President Trump and Republicans to torpedo it. The ACA is very much alive for now, however, and an important deadline looms for applying for 2021 individual health insurance coverage through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.
That the annual open enrollment period for individual, private health insurance through the marketplace hasn’t received the attention it deserves comes as no surprise. The Trump administration, after it failed in 2017 to persuade the then-Republican-controlled Congress to repeal the ACA, embarked on a strategy of gutting its protections and provisions that have made health insurance so much more widely available. Among the administration’s steps were to cut back the enrollment period and the budget for advertising. It also slashed by over two-thirds the budget for health insurance navigators, who assist individuals through the enrollment process. And it hasn’t helped in getting word about the open enrollment period out this year that so much air has been sucked up by the latest COVID-19 surge and by the election and the president’s ongoing challenges to it.
The concern, then, is that many who might benefit from purchasing affordable individual health insurance through the marketplace may not be aware of open enrollment and that, for most, next Tuesday, Dec. 15, is the last day to sign up through the marketplace for next year’s coverage and to qualify for federal assistance to lower the cost. After then, insurance can be purchased through the marketplace only within 60 days of certain qualifying life events, such as divorce or loss of employer insurance.
In New Hampshire, about 41,000 state residents are expected to purchase individual health insurance for 2021, according to Insurance Commissioner Chris Nicolopoulos. Encouragingly, he also reported lower premium rates are again expected in 2021, attributing the decrease to a state innovation waiver obtained under the ACA.
Anyone can enroll through the federal government’s online portal for the marketplace at www.healthcare.gov. And, despite the cuts in the ACA budget, help in understanding options and with the enrollment process remains available. Information about contacting enrollment assisters to help with the enrollment process, who in this region include Cheshire Medical Center (available to its patients and non-patients alike) and certified insurance brokers, can be found at www.healthcare.gov/find-assistance. Also, First Choice Services, a free, nonprofit program available to all state residents, offers free assistance at https://acanavigator.com/nh/home or by calling 1-877-211-NAVI. And Covering New Hampshire — a statewide initiative to bolster health insurance enrollment in New Hampshire — has made extensive information and contacts available through its website at https://coveringnewhampshire.org/.
But the time to act is now. The health insurance marketplace offers options to those who can’t get insurance through work, Medicare, Medicaid or another qualifying source. There are a variety of policies to pick from. More importantly, depending on income level, financial assistance may be available for paying premiums or out-of-pocket expenses that can significantly reduce the cost of health insurance purchased through the marketplace.
The ACA’s future is uncertain. Even if it survives pending court challenges, President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to address its flaws after he takes office. What is certain, though, is that individual, private health insurance for 2021 is available through the marketplace as well as qualifying financial assistance to bring down its cost, but only until Dec. 15. We encourage anyone without health insurance for 2021 to act quickly to explore options and complete the enrollment process.