Only A Week Left To Sign Up For Health Insurance

Tens of thousands of Oregonians have less than a week to enroll in health insurance for next year.

The latest enrollment figures show that only 47,000 people have signed up through the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace, a program that helps citizens and legal immigrants enroll in coverage. That compares with 56,000 people at the same time last year, marking a 16 percent drop.

The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services has stepped up video and audio ads on Hulu, Spotify and TV and sent out news releases to print media, hoping to encourage more people to enroll. 

“We want to make sure everybody who could get coverage gives it a shot,” said Elizabeth Cronen, spokeswoman for the marketplace. 

Anyone who doesn’t have coverage through their workplace or who is not on Medicare or Medicaid can use the marketplace to get coverage. That’s about 250,000 people in Oregon. The marketplace is the only program that allows people to receive federal subsidies to reduce their premiums. According to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 38,400 people in Oregon qualify for an essentially free bronze plan, thanks to the subsidies. (Oregon requires that plans offer abortion coverage, which is not covered by federal money. That typically costs $1 a month.)

Elizabeth Cronen, spokeswoman for the marketplace, said the department is hopeful enrollments will spike as the deadline nears. 

“Every single year we see a surge at the end,” Cronen said.

Last year 148,000 people signed up for commercial health insurance through the exchange, marking a 5 percent drop from the year before. About three-quarters qualified for subsidies, giving them an average net premium of $140 a month, Cronen said. It’s not clear why so many people don’t enroll through the marketplace, though there’s no longer a penalty not to be insured. 

It may have something to do with an atmosphere of fear and confusion around shifting policies, Cronen said. In October, President Donald Trump issued a federal proclamation requiring foreigners applying for a visa from abroad to show proof of health insurance. The proclamation was blocked nationwide in November by a U.S. judge in Oregon, who granted a preliminary injunction against it. There’s also been a push by the Trump administration against immigrants receiving benefits like Medicaid -- the so-called public charge rule -- which also has been put on hold by the courts.

Neither the proclamation nor the public charge rule has anything to do with the marketplace, Cronen said, but they could be a factor in the drop in sign-ups.

“They don’t affect the market eligibility for immigrants at this point,” Cronen said, “but all of that from the federal government could have a chilling effect on enrollment.”

At the same time, she said it’s also likely that a lot of people who are satisfied with their plans have not enrolled because they’ll be auto-renewed if they do nothing. Very few plans have been dropped this year, which means fewer people received letters from their insurers telling them to sign up for new coverage.

Consumers have until Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time to enroll at OregonHealthCare.gov.

Cronen also offered these tips:

  • To get a quick estimate of your subsidy and cost of coverage, go to OregonHealthCare.gov/windowshop. People whose incomes are just above the limit for the Oregon Health Plan can find plans costing them as little as $1 per month, provided they meet all eligibility requirements. 
  • Get free, local help enrolling through licensed insurance agents and certified community partners by going to OregonHealthCare.gov/gethelp or call the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace at 1-855-268-3767 (toll-free). 
  • Get to know the new benefits in some plans. For the first time, plans with the words "standard bronze" in their name all cover primary care office visits for a flat $45 co-pay, even when the plan's $7,900 deductible has not been met. This plan type is among the options with a net cost of $1 per month for single people making about $19,000 a year and meeting a few other qualifications. 
  • To hear about other people’s experiences, check out this YouTube channel

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].

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