Insurance Market Changes Could Affect Coverage Rates in 2018

Changes to the Affordable Care Act announced by the Trump administration will shorten the enrollment period for insurance coverage in 2018, possibly creating coverage delays.

Customers will have a 45-day window between November 1 and December 15, 2017, to shop for 2018 coverage. In previous years, enrollment was open until January 31. These changes will also limit “special enrollment periods” in which consumers can apply for coverage outside of the set timeframe if they have a major life change such as pregnancy or divorce.

This leaves people less time to research their options – such as whether a network includes their doctor or if they are eligible for tax credits. Shoppers will face additional difficulties choosing a plan because insurers can potentially drop out of exchanges or reduce coverage as late as a few weeks before the enrollment period begins. This is a challenge in rural regions, some of which have only one insurer option or none at all. These areas seem to be increasing in number according to a New York Times report.

The changes are intended to stabilize the insurance exchanges available through HealthCare.gov as insurance companies have either raised premiums or left the exchanges because they are losing money. To offset the costs of insuring older, less healthy patients, the changes will permit insurers to create low-cost plans for younger, healthier customers; however, these plans will carry higher deductibles.

Insurers, hospitals, and physicians have requested that the “cost-sharing” subsidies that help reduce high deductibles and copayments be kept in place for 2018, but the decision will depend on the result of ongoing litigation. If the subsidies – which cost the federal government $7 billion in 2016 – disappear, private policy holders could see an increase in premiums, potentially causing insurers to leave the exchanges.

Source: The New York Times, April 14, 2017.

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