SOURCE: AgileHealthInsurance.com

AgileHealthInsurance.com

October 12, 2016 10:00 ET

Amid Higher Premiums and Fewer Choices, Consumers Must Carefully Weigh Options During Open Enrollment

AgileHealthInsurance.com Offers Five Tips for Consumers Seeking Coverage

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA--(Marketwired - Oct 12, 2016) - Narrow networks and fewer health plan choices are among the challenges consumers must navigate during this year's open enrollment period, according to AgileHealthInsurance.com, which released five tips today for consumers shopping for 2017 health insurance. Open enrollment for 2017 Obamacare coverage runs from Nov. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2017.

"This is going be an especially challenging year for open enrollment. There are higher premiums and deductibles, and fewer plans to choose from," said Sam Gibbs, executive director of AgileHealthInsurance.com. "Going on autopilot isn't really an option, especially for those consumers whose current plan won't be available next year. It's important people carefully weigh their options before enrolling."

Five Tips for Consumers Shopping for 2017 Health Insurance Coverage

  • Know (and comply with) the deadlines. This year's open enrollment period begins Nov. 1, 2016, and runs through Jan. 31, 2017. Unless you qualify for a special enrollment period, it is the only time you can enroll in a marketplace plan. However, there are additional deadlines of which you should be aware. For example, if you want coverage to begin Jan. 1, you must enroll in coverage by Dec. 15. If you want coverage to begin Feb. 1, you must enroll by Jan. 15. If you wait until Jan. 31, your coverage will not begin until March 1.

    Also, procrastinators should be aware the federal government has tightened up the requirements for qualifying for a special enrollment period, which allows people to sign up for coverage outside of open enrollment if they have a change in life circumstances, like losing health insurance, moving or getting married. Keep in mind you may be asked for documents that prove your eligibility for special enrollment.

  • Study the health plan's provider networks. This year more than ever, if you want to keep your doctor, it's important to confirm he or she is included in the plan you are considering. As medical costs continue to rise, one of the ways health plans try to keep a handle on rising premiums is by limiting their provider networks. Also, the withdrawal of large carriers and co-ops from the marketplace means many counties will have only one insurer offering Obamacare plans on the government exchange. The lack of options increases the likelihood of preferred doctors and hospitals being out-of-network if the only available insurer uses narrow networks.

    Provider network restrictions can be financially devastating because consumers could have to pay the entire medical bill out-of-pocket if they choose to see an out-of-network provider. The best way to confirm your doctor is included is to check the provider directory not only on HealthCare.gov but also directly with the health insurance carrier. The directories change often, and you want to make sure you have the latest information.

  • Look beyond premiums to factor in deductibles. Another way insurers are looking to keep a handle on premiums is by increasing deductibles. A deductible is the amount an enrollee must pay for covered medical services before an insurance plan will start covering costs. For instance, if your plan has a $3,000 deductible, you must pay this amount towards covered health care expenses before your insurance will start paying for a share of costs. 

    It may be tempting to pick the plan with the lowest premium, but that is only one of the factors that plays into how much you'll end up paying for medical care.

  • Consider using health savings account (HSA) funds for qualified medical expenses. If you have an HSA, that money remains yours, even if you lose a job and the coverage that goes along with it. You can use HSA funds for a range of medical expenses, including doctor's fees, prescription drugs and dental treatment. You generally can't use HSA funds for health insurance premiums. However, there is an exception for people receiving unemployment benefits.

    To find HSA-eligible plans on HealthCare.gov, look for "HSA" or "HSA eligible" in the plan name. Also, look for the plan's HSA benefit details in the plan brochure.

  • If you feel you can't afford marketplace coverage, don't go uninsured. Premium subsidies are available for people making up to $47,520 (single) or $64,080 (couple). However, even with premium assistance, some people feel they cannot afford coverage and consider going uninsured, a risky move that could be financially devastating. Rather than go without coverage, explore other coverage alternatives, including term health insurance, health care sharing ministries or fixed indemnity plans. These plans can be purchased at any time, but they each have different pros and cons so be sure to understand their benefits and limitations. Also, depending on the coverage you select, you may have to pay the Obamacare Tax, unless you qualify for one of several exemptions.

AgileHealthInsurance.com was created to educate people about the benefits of term health insurance and provide a fast, online process for purchasing these plans. Term health insurance is a flexible and low-cost major medical insurance for individuals without expensive pre-existing health conditions. It is not Obamacare. Term health plans offer consumers the flexibility to choose health plans with the benefits that matter most to them and combine these benefits with broad provider networks. Additional information about AgileHealthInsurance can be found at www.AgileHealthInsurance.com

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