Local insurance agents will be hard-pressed to keep up with demand for their services this year after the federal government shortened the enrollment period for the health insurance exchanges to 45 days.
“It’s fast and furious,” said Doug Beamer, a partner at Wheatland Financial Services in Pendleton.
The enrollment period for people to sign up or switch insurance plans runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Last year it ran twice as long, through Jan. 31. The deadline applies to anyone who buys their health insurance through the insurance marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act because they do not get health insurance through an employer or the government.
Computer-savvy Americans can log in to www.healthcare.gov and shop for and enroll in plans on their own. But many people prefer to consult with an insurance agent before making the decision. Tania Mulcare, an insurance agent with the ISU Stratton Agency in Hermiston, said people can help keep their appointments short by being prepared. That means creating a username and password for healthcare.gov before arriving, or making sure you remember your login information from last year.
She said people should also bring in any letters they’ve received about their health insurance, plus social security numbers and financial information about each member of the household needing insurance.
“Time is valuable, so anything they can do to be prepared helps,” she said.
A majority of Americans receive their health insurance through their employer, or through government-sponsored Medicaid or Medicare. The rest — including those who are self-employed — can sign up for plans via the Affordable Care Act health exchange. In most cases, depending on income level, people who sign up for health insurance via the exchange can qualify for tax credits to help cover some of their premium costs.
The enrollment period open now is the only time they can sign up for a new plan or change to a different plan for 2018 unless they have a “qualifying life event” during the year such as marriage or moving to a new state. Those who already have insurance through the exchanges can have their plan automatically renewed for the next year, but the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services recommends that they still log on to their account to update their financial information and compare plans.
“People who do so, instead of automatically being renewed, often save money,” the department wrote in a news release.
Mulcare said once people do have their health insurance picked out, it is critical they remember to pay their renewal premium by Jan. 1, otherwise they will not be covered by health insurance during 2018.
For those who want help navigating the system, a list of licensed health insurance agents in the area can be found online at oregonhealthcare.gov/gethelp. The website also lists community partners who will assist in the sign-up process for free, including Good Shepherd Medical Center and Umatilla County Human Services.