Top 9 Tips for the 2018 Healthcare Open Enrollment Period

on November 15, 2017

1. Pay attention – open enrollment is shorter this year!

Don’t delay and miss out on what may be your only chance to sign up for a new individual or family health plan for 2018. American consumers who buy health coverage on their own are used to a three-month open enrollment period, but the Trump administration has cut this coming year’s period in half. Open enrollment for 2018 is scheduled to begin November 1, 2017 and to end on December 15, 2017. (In prior years open enrollment ended January 31.)

2. Some people will get “free” Obamacare next year, while others pay more than ever. An eHealth analysis shows that Obamacare is getting so expensive that it may actually be free for many people in 2018. Sounds strange, but here’s how it works: subsidies go up as the cost of benchmark silver plans go up, and they’re going so high next year that many subsidy recipients will be able to get a lower-cost bronze plan without paying anything at all toward their own premiums. Meanwhile, the lowest-cost plan available is set to increase 26% in 2018 and middle-income folks who don’t qualify for subsidies are going to suffer more than ever.

3. If you’re self-employed, consider small group health coverage as an alternative to Obamacare – Group health insurance plans tend to be a better investment for small businesses. As an employer, you will likely pay at least fifty percent of the monthly premiums for your employees, but you can typically deduct these costs from your business taxes and, in some cases, you may even be eligible for special tax credits. Any contribution your employees make toward their premiums are generally paid from their pre-tax salaries, too, which can add up to significant savings for them.

To qualify for small business health insurance you need an owner and at least one w-2 employee that works 30 hours or more per week that isn’t a spouse. If you’ve had employees or contractors that you paid by using IRS Form 1099 within the past year, you may qualify for a small business health insurance plan in some cases.

4. For lower premiums, choose a plan with a higher deductible. This is a tried and true tip for any health insurance shopper but it’s worth repeating as the cost of monthly health insurance premiums continues to increase. If finding an affordable premium is the top priority for you, consider a bronze level plan that may come with a higher deductible. It could save you thousands of dollars per year on your premiums, but remember that you may face a significantly higher deductible when you receive non-preventive medical care. In that case, you may want to add a low-cost supplemental insurance product like accident or critical illness insurance or a medical indemnity plan to help you cover your deductible.

5. Cost-sharing reduction subsidies are going away. A Trump administration executive order did away with cost-sharing reduction subsidies which funded lower deductibles for people earning 100-250% of the federal poverty level (up to about $30K annual for an individual). Subsidies for monthly premiums are still in place for these same people, however, and are expected to make up the difference as insurance companies raise premiums in response to the loss of cost-sharing reduction subsidies.

6. Subsidies are still available, despite what you may have heard. President Trump signed an executive order halting payments to insurance companies that subsidized deductibles for low-income earners. This doesn’t mean, however, that health insurance subsidies are totally a thing of the past. If you earn no more than 400% of the federal poverty level (about $48,000 for a single person or $98,000 for a family of four) you may still qualify for subsidies to help lower your monthly health insurance premiums.

7. You may be off the hook for tax penalties in 2018. According to Obamacare rules, health insurance is officially “unaffordable” when the lowest-cost plan available costs more than 8.16% of your household income (MAGI). This may exempt you from the tax penalty for going uninsured. eHealth analyses demonstrate that a significant number of individuals age 45+ and families of three who don’t qualify for subsidies may be exempt from tax penalties in 2018. If you’re exempt from the Obamacare tax penalty in 2018 and can’t afford Obamacare-compliant coverage, you may wish to consider less costly alternatives.

8. Look beyond government marketplaces for hidden deals. Government-run health insurance marketplaces only offer a selection of Obamacare-compliant health insurance plans to choose from. Licensed health insurance brokers and agents like eHealth may offer these same plans but also additional Obamacare plans that are unavailable through government marketplaces. If you want the find the best plan for your personal health needs and budget, make sure you consider major medical plans offered outside of government websites.

9. Consider more affordable alternatives to Obamacare. Some middle-income individuals and families who don’t get government subsidies simply can’t afford to purchase Obamacare-compliant health insurance anymore. That’s why eHealth is offering special medical insurance packages this open enrollment period, in addition to Obamacare plans. These medical insurance packages combine several supplemental medical insurance products (and non-insurance products like telemedicine or Rx discount cards) into a single package that can be purchased as one. These packages won’t meet the coverage requirements of Obamacare, but they offer valuable protection against medical expenses at a reasonable price for those who might otherwise go totally uninsured.