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Last-minute tips for health coverage before Dec. 15 deadline

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

There are just five days left in the open-enrollment period for Obamacare as Saturday, Dec. 15 is the last day most Americans can sign up if they want health coverage at the first of the year. Although 3.2 million Americans have enrolled through the fifth week of the enrollment period, that’s 11% lower than last year, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

There are three major factors contributing to this lag. First, advertising and outreach dollars have been stretched even further this year. “The drastic cuts to advertising and in-person enrollment are troublesome with new sign-ups lagging by 18%” so far this year, said Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation. And the new consumers, without coverage, are the ones most in need to learn about enrollment and health care options. Pollitz says Kaiser’s tracking polls indicate that year after year, people are most confused about the period of enrollment, the deadlines, and plan choices upon sign-up.

That said, enrollment has remained steady for the 12 state-based exchanges. In New York State, for example, enrollment has outpaced previous years because of targeted outreach efforts both in-person and on social media. “A wide range of participating plans, targeted consumer outreach and easy auto-renewal all help ensure the goal of getting every New Yorker covered,” said Erin Hammon, a spokesperson for NY State’s healthcare marketplace.

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Another major factor affecting enrollment is the repeal of the tax penalty, which means that beginning in 2019 people who don’t have coverage won’t have to pay a penalty as they did when the individual mandate was still in effect. The government estimates that the repeal will result in 4 million people dropping their health plans next year, and 13 million in 2027. But firm figures are still unknown as to how many have dropped coverage because of the repeal.

Lastly, adding to the enrollment decline is that more low-cost short-term health plans are being offered by private insurance companies. These plans are loosely regulated and those with pre-existing conditions will be denied coverage, but people who are in relatively good health might opt into these plans because they cost less.

But in this last week of enrollment, Pollitz expects sign-ups to be impressive as there is typically a last-minute surge across the country.

Those planning on shopping for coverage should expect some lag on the site. For new consumers and renewers alike, all are encouraged to comparison shop for coverage as changes in 2019 premiums and participating insurers could substantially change subsidy amounts.

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