Open enrollment for ObamaCare begins on Wednesday, opening a new chapter in what has been a tumultuous year for the health-care law.
The frenzy over health care this year has stoked public confusion about ObamaCare, with some people erroneously stating in polls that the law has been repealed or that they no longer have to pay a fine for not having insurance.
Here are five things to know about the new sign-up period, which will be the first one managed by the Trump administration.
The enrollment period is shorter
This year’s open enrollment period is half as long as it was during the Obama administration, ending Dec. 15. In the past, people could sign up for plans into January.
Because of the shorter window, experts and supporters of the law are urging people to sign up for coverage as soon as possible.
“Consumers need to know they should not wait until the last minute,” said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, during a press briefing Tuesday.
“Start as early as possible to set up an account, update your application, review plan choices and costs and get enrolled in coverage for 2018.”
Subsidies are still available
Financial help from the government is still available to help people buy insurance on the exchanges, and the eligibility rules haven’t changed.
Those with incomes less than four times the poverty line, about $48,000, are still eligible for help. There’s also assistance for low-income people who need help paying co-pays and deductibles.
While the Trump administration has canceled payments to insurers that reimbursed them for giving discounted co-pays and deductibles to low-income customers, insurers on the marketplace are still required by law to offer the discounts.
The discounts are available for those making between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty level, or between about $12,060 and $30,150 for an individual.
There is still a fine for not having insurance
While the Trump administration opposes ObamaCare, officials are limited in what they can do on enforcement of the law’s unpopular individual mandate.
Until Congress repeals it, the mandate will remain in effect, and those who don’t have insurance could face a minimum penalty of $695 or 2.5 percent of their income next year.
The IRS announced earlier this month it would step up its enforcement of the mandate by automatically rejecting electronic returns for tax year 2017 that don’t specify if the taxpayer had health insurance.
“The 2018 filing season will be the first time the IRS will not accept tax returns that omit this information,” the agency said in a statement.
The GOP’s previous ObamaCare repeal bills have included a retroactive repeal of the individual mandate, meaning that, if passed, people who went without insurance wouldn’t have to pay the fine.
While Republicans hope to return to repeal legislation next year, it’s not certain to contain a retroactive repeal of the mandate, even if a bill comes up for a vote.
Some people could have limited options
More counties will only have one ObamaCare insurer offering plans this year; in those counties, the insurance options may be limited.
About half of the counties in the U.S. will have only one insurer option next year, compared to about one-third in 2017, according to an analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
About one-fourth of the population lives in a county expected to have only one ObamaCare insurer next year. This will hit rural areas the hardest, as they have always struggled to attract insurers.
Many insurers, including large ones like Anthem and Aetna, have announced that they won’t participate in ObamaCare this year, leaving smaller insurers to fill the gaps.
Still, every county in the U.S. is slated to have at least one insurer offering coverage, despite fears earlier this year that some counties could be left “bare,” with no options at all.
There is help for people looking to enroll
While the Trump administration slashed funding for in-person enrollment assistance, it is still promoting help for people who need it. Many organizations that support the law are still operating.
People interested in finding enrollment help can visit localhelp.healthcare.gov. Enrollment assistance is also available via the phone at (800) 318-2596.