Obamacare is not dead, as President Donald Trump declared on Monday. That’s an important reality check with less than two weeks to go before Nov. 1 — the first day consumers in Minnesota and elsewhere can begin to buy health insurance on the individual market for 2018.
One key way the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, helps consumers is by providing financial assistance to the estimated 7 percent of Americans who buy coverage on their own instead of getting it through employers or public programs. Consumers who qualify receive tax credits that act as instant discounts on monthly premium costs. Some may also be eligible for cost-sharing reduction assistance to meet annual deductibles or office copays.
The law and those two forms of consumer assistance remain in place despite the misleading presidential rhetoric and unsuccessful attempts by Congress this year to repeal and replace the ACA. The tax credits may be even more important given the 2018 rate increases that insurers have attributed to uncertainty created by political maneuvering. It’s possible that people who didn’t qualify for this assistance before may be eligible now. Comparison shopping is crucial this fall. Those who normally auto-renew annual policies should do their homework first.
About 65 percent of Minnesotans who buy on the individual insurance market are eligible for ACA tax credits. This assistance is only available on plans sold through MNsure, the state-run insurance marketplace. MNsure is also where consumers can find out if they qualify for public medical programs, such as MinnesotaCare.
Health insurance is a complex purchase, and getting it right is a must. MNsure offers an online tool to comparison shop on your own. But many people benefit from tapping into the expertise of insurance brokers and “assisters” to sort through which plan provides the best value.
While open enrollment in Minnesota begins Nov. 1, consumers should work ahead of time to find this in-person help close to home and set up an appointment. MNsure also offers online help to locate this free assistance. Phone help is also available at 1-855-366-7873.
Uncertainty about the ACA is understandable after a year dominated by the bitter political battle over the law’s fate. Mixed signals from the Trump administration on the law’s other key components aren’t helping.
Shortly after taking office, Trump signed an executive order thought at the time to undermine the ACA’s individual mandate — the requirement to have health insurance. But on Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it will not accept electronic tax returns in the coming year if the filer has not provided coverage status information. It appears that the mandate will be enforced — another compelling reason consumers shouldn’t forgo health insurance.
This week, a letter signed by 10 Republican and Democratic governors warned Congress and the president that the ongoing battle over health care is “sowing confusion” among consumers. We share this concern, especially after a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 68 percent of people uninsured do not know when open enrollment begins.
Political and community leaders need to spread the word about the ACA. Getting everyone covered is still doable because this law, while battle-scarred, has not gone away.