Health insurance open enrollment deadline for new customers nearing

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MADISON, Wisconsin — The open enrollment period for Wisconsin residents shopping for coverage on the federally run health insurance exchange for the first time ends Monday. Important information for new customers facing the deadline to consider includes:


WHO DOES THE DEADLINE AFFECT?

Monday is the deadline for people who are signing up for coverage through HealthCare.gov for the first time and want those plans to start on Jan. 1. It's also the deadline for current customers to make changes to their coverage and have those take effect at the start of the year.

After Monday's deadline, people can still enroll or make changes to their plans up until Feb. 15, but those plans won't be in effect at the beginning of the year.

The online marketplace is meant for people who aren't covered by employer-offered insurance plans or government programs, such as Medicare and BadgerCare, the state's Medicaid program. The marketplace offers subsidized private insurance for single people earning about $47,000 or less per year and families with incomes of up to $128,000.


DO CURRENT CUSTOMERS NEED TO DO ANYTHING?

Current customers will be automatically renewed if they make no changes, but that may leave many of them facing higher premiums, so the Obama administration is joining consumer advocates in recommending that people reassess their options.

"Their plan may have changed, their circumstances may have changed and they need to re-determine what is the best plan at the best rate," said Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Subsidies may have changed and new plans may offer better deals as well, Peacock said.

"Taking a passive approach is not wise," agreed Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit Madison law firm that helps people get health care. "Taking a look, evaluating their options, is just something people should get in the habit of doing."


PRICES AND PLANS

An analysis of the plans being sold in Wisconsin by Citizen Action, a health care advocacy group, found that insurance options cost less in 19 counties this year compared to last. That is when looking at the lowest-cost silver level plans. Costs increased up to 10 percent in 51 counties and more than 10 percent in only Calumet and Menominee counties, the group said.

Thirteen counties that last year had only one insurance provider selling plans now have two or more, Citizen Action said.


HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE SIGNED UP?

The federal government has yet to release data on how many Wisconsin residents have signed up for insurance this time around. State officials have no estimate for this the second open enrollment period. In the first year of the law, about 166,000 Wisconsin residents signed up for insurance, according to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. This year, through the first two weeks of the open enrollment period, about half of the 765,000 people who had signed up nationwide for coverage beginning in 2015 were new customers. The other half were changing or updating their current coverage.


MORE HELPFUL TIPS

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has a number of tips on its website and answers to frequently asked questions: http://oci.wi.gov/healthcare_ref/healthcarereform_renewalfaq.pdf


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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