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Obamacare Still Exists. Here's How You Can Sign Up Before The Dec. 15 Deadline

NJ.com — November 2, 2017

By Susan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Despite the partisan beltway bickering in Washington, the Affordable Care Act that has provided insurance coverage to roughly 265,000 people in New Jersey, remains intact.

What's missing is most of the money the Obama administration once provided to pay organizers to hold sign-up events, and navigators to walk people through the enrollment process on healthcare.gov. President Trump cut 62 percent of the funding for these promotional activities, from $1.9 million to $729,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But there is no shortage of people at work spreading the word about the open enrollment period, which began Wednesday and closes Dec. 15. The Trump administration also reduced the open enrollment period, which previously had lasted through December or January.

"In response to the recent federal cuts to the ACA funding and outreach, groups from all across the state have come together to ensure New Jerseyans have the information and resources they need to get enrolled," said Maura Collinsgru, the health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action.

"Consumers need to know they can still get financial assistance as in years past if they qualify and free enrollment assistance to help select the plan that is right for them," Collinsgru added.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the largest provider of health coverage in ACA market, is contacting policy holders by letter explaining the enrollment process. The Newark-based nonprofit is also running a social media and traditional marketing campaign.

"We are putting unprecedented resources into this effort through community-based outreach, expanding out footprint in malls, hosting grassroots educations events and making agents available in person, on the phone or online," Michael Considine, Horizon's vice president for Consumer, Small Group and Mid-Size Market Units, said.

Here's what you need to know about shopping for coverage on or off the health exchange:

Start here: Healthcare.gov

The government website allows people to comparison-shop and find out if they qualify for financial assistance. Most people have. Last year, 79 percent of the people from New Jersey who acquired coverage through the federal program received financial help.

There is a zip-code driven menu of brokers and "assisters" and their contact information if someone needs help using the site or making coverage decisions.

Be warned: the website is scheduled to be shut down five of the six Sundays with the exception of Dec. 10, from midnight to noon during the open enrollment period.

Who's selling

There are 23 plans from three insurance carriers to choose from.

Oscar Garden State Insurance Company joins Horizon and AmeriHealth as insurance carriers selling individual and family policies on and off the health exchange. New York-based Oscar Health is back selling in north and central Jersey after a year's absence.

Tax credits and subsidies are still available

It's true the Trump administration recently ended cost-sharing payments insurance companies received to cover deductibles and co-payments for low-income policyholders. This decision has no impact on people whose income is low enough to qualify for assistance; their support remains intact for 2018.

People who earn too much to qualify for help — more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line, or $48,240 for a single person — are the ones who will pay double-digit premium increases next year. Anticipating the president's actions, insurance companies requested rate hikes from the state department of Banking and Insurance to offset their losses.

The average increase for a mid-tier "silver plan" an AmeriHealth policy is 17 percent and 24 for Horizon coverage.

The premium hikes are targeted at the silver plans, making the gold plans and bronze offerings, a better deal, Banking and Insurance Commissioner Richard Badalato said.

"While all individual plans cover the same services and supplies, deductibles, copayments and coinsurance vary from plan to plan," according to a statement from Badalato office.

For more information

For more information about enrollment events and assistance in signing up, visit covernj.org, a site created by a coalition of public health, consumer and social service agencies called the CoverNJCoalition.

People who want to familiarize themselves with the individual market and the participating carriers may consult the state's managed care report card and a guide to the individual health coverage program.

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