- A new enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act marketplace opened Nov. 1.
- Federal officials have launched expanded efforts to reach communities that have been hard to reach in the past.
- They have also increased programs that help people sign up and decide which healthcare coverage is best for them.
You may have seen this ad or one like it in the past few days.
In it, a woman named Taylor from Indianapolis says:
“You know, I wish people knew how easy it was to get health coverage. This new law has made it so affordable I’m only paying $52 a month. But there are quality plans for even less. New law, lower prices. More people qualify at HealthCare.gov.”
The ads are appearing as a new enrollment period kicked off Nov. 1 for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Enrollment is open until Jan. 15.
Advocates say this time there’s even more of an effort to reach communities where there might have been barriers to getting the word out.
“There’s more outreach in other languages, not just an English speaker or Spanish speaker,” said Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives at Families USA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer health advocacy organization.
“In addition, there’s advertising this year in Mandarin, Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Hindi… so that’s helpful,” she told Healthline.
The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) says it’s partnering with cultural experts to launch one of the biggest national marketing campaigns since the beginning of the ACA.
One of the goals is to target people who might have less access to healthcare.
During this enrollment period, CMS officials are spending more than $80 million to ramp up their efforts to help consumers find the right plan.
Navigators are the individuals or companies that are trained to help consumers wade through their healthcare coverage options.
These assistants will now have mobile sites, off-hours appointment times, and virtual appointments for people who don’t have transportation.
If you click on “Find local help” on HealthCare.gov or on your state’s website, if your state is operating its own marketplace, you can find community-based organizations that are equipped to assist you.
Elisabeth Benjamin is vice president of health initiatives for the Community Service Society of New York. Her agency runs the largest navigator program in New York.
She said even though federal officials have enhanced the website, it can still be complicated.
“HealthCare.gov has really improved its shopper tool so you can compare prices and get a sense of what you might be eligible for, ” she told Healthline.
“But it’s still kind of tricky to just get through all the kinds of questions that you have to answer. You want to answer them right, or you might somehow unwittingly not be eligible for financial aid when you really are,” she said.
“Where navigators really help is if you’re shopping between plans. In New York’s downstate area, for example, there are more than 90 plans to choose from. That’s a lot, and it’s really hard to wade through all of those,” Benjamin explained.
“A navigator can walk you through the options,” she noted. “And if you can’t get to a navigator, call the call center. Every marketplace has a toll free number. Either their staff can help walk you through it, or they can hook you up with a navigator. So there’s lots of support out there.”
The Biden-Harris administration extended the open enrollment period earlier this year to accommodate more people who had lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 12 million people are signed up now for Obamacare.
The administration’s American Rescue Plan, which went into effect in March, included financial aid that helped more people sign on, and it lowered the insurance premiums for others.
“Under the American Rescue Plan, it’s been expanded so that people can get much better coverage for much less,” Benjamin explained. “For the first time it offered financial aid to people who were 400 percent above the federal poverty level. That’s around $51,000 a year for a single person.”
However, that aid is set to end by Dec. 31, 2022, unless Congress acts.
“We’re waiting to see if the ‘Build Back Better’ infrastructure bill will extend them further,” Fish-Parcham said.
The current proposal for the Biden infrastructure plan would extend the current benefits another 4 years through 2025.
It would also provide an incentive for states that have continued to turn down the Obamacare provision to expand Medicaid.
If those states reject the incentives, the bill proposes a safety net for the millions of uninsured people in states such as Texas and Florida.
The proposal is to eventually create a new Medicaid-like federal option for health insurance.
However, that bill is a big question mark for now. The price tag keeps getting whittled down, and it’s unclear what programs will survive.
It does not have any Republican support. The Biden-Harris administration is negotiating with two Democratic senators to get the legislation passed.