It’s Obamacare Season Again. Are You Ready?

Doctor typingThis Saturday North Carolinians get another crack at signing up for Affordable Care Insurance, aka Obamacare. You might remember last year, when software problems and overloaded servers led to health care shoppers getting locked out of the website for months. This year, things look brighter. The federal government has a whole year of bug fixes and software patches under its belt and it is ready to roll out to the masses.

But are you ready for Obamacare? If you were covered by ACA insurance in the last year, you are going to need to log in in the next month to update your information and shop new plans. If you want to join up, you’ll need to gather some information and prepare to spend an hour or two squinting at plans and premiums on the federally run healthcare.gov website. And spoiler alert: insurance is expensive. Almost every plan on the marketplace costs more than it did last year.

Insurance premium increases happen, but it’s important to take a look. In my case it looks like my gold Blue Cross Blue Shield Value plan is going up by about $50 a month—a sizeable amount. I’m going to consider moving to a higher deductible to keep my monthly costs down, but I won’t know for sure what’s available to me until healthcare.gov opens for business on Saturday.

In the past year more than a third of NC’s uninsured—357,000 people—signed up and paid for health insurance under a recent law that makes insurance available to everyone, regardless of preexisting condition or age.

A large portion of those folks received health care subsidies—decreases in premium amounts based on income. For some people, who’ve gotten raises in the last year, or who have dipped below the minimum salary for a subsidy, this year’s re-enrollment could mean bad news. As you’ve doubtlessly heard by now, North Carolina is one of the states that did not expand Medicaid. That means you can make too little to get help paying for coverage but too much to get Medicaid. Awesome.

In somewhat more troubling news, the recent national election, which gave conservatives a majority in the senate could threaten the institution of the Affordable Care Act and could mean an end to subsidies for North Carolina residents. An upcoming Supreme Court case, King v. Burwell, might end insurance subsidies in states like NC, without a statewide insurance exchange.

If the case is decided in favor of conservatives, state governments and legislatures will be given a chance to save subsidies in their states. Since NC politics have basically come down to, “you’ll get nothing and like it,” I don’t hold your breath for a bailout from anyone in Raleigh. In the next year hundreds of thousands of NC taxpayers might suddenly find their health insurance to be completely unaffordable, if subsidies disappear.

But does this mean you should skip this month’s open enrollment? NO! Emphatically no-no-no! If you need insurance, sign up! If you can get a subsidy, get on that, ASAP. I’ve had ACA insurance for almost a year now and I’ve never been so happy with a plan. I get meds, go on visits, and get labs done, with a minimum of stress. And that, my friends, is worth any heartache that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing what the next year will bring.




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