“How do I get health insurance?”

Countdown-to-get-covered

Perhaps I should not be so shocked that now only days before the close of 2016 open enrollment  season I am still receiving calls from individuals asking basic questions like “How do I get health insurance?”

This blog post is simply an outline of the telephone conversation that follows in this situation.

Our conversation starts with an explanation that I am not affiliated with a health insurance company or any government program*. I am an independent adviser offering telephone consultation only under the terms listed at OnlineNavigator.org who may be able to direct you to more useful resources. I presume that they have not been able to find resources in their local community which, frankly, would be far better than having this conversation with me.

Next we try to determine whether the caller is likely to benefit from a government premium subsidy . If so, then I direct them to the web site for their state insurance exchange. These state exchanges are listed at separately for each state at FreedomBenefits.net. It may be important to understand the differences between a private health insurance exchange that offers major medical insurance and a state-run insurance exchange. To make things simple I simply direct everyone who may qualify for a subsidy to the state exchange.

Most of my callers do not qualify for a premium subsidy (it is not clear why my callers tend to be skewed toward upper income individuals and non-citizens) so I direct them to the Members Insurance Exchange where I can more closely support the quoting and enrollment support resources.

The steps required are:

  1. Find a PC or tablet computer with a fast internet connection. (Smart phones are generally insufficient for insurance enrollment and often frustrate the process).
  2. If you’ve already left the web page where you found my phone number then go to my site FreedomBenefits.net to start. Browse the information and news by navigating to your state page or or directly to “Get a quote”.
  3. Enter the required information: name, email, date of birth and zip code for each person requesting coverage. Click through to the insurance listing in your zip code. The web site is set up to separate the minimum essential coverage policies (aka “Obamacare”) from the other types of health insurance policies. It seems that a larger than normal portion of my callers don’t want or don’t need the Obamacare plans. That might be a mistake, but I’m unlikely to convince many callers to change their mind.
  4. Select a plan by clicking “apply now”. This transfers you to the online application for the selected insurance company.
  5. At the end of the process you will receive one or more emails confirming the activity and application status. This email includes a link to a secure log in to update or continue your application, f necessary. The email also includes the telephone number of the member services office of the insurance company (if you applied).
  6. My contact information is available on each supported web site and email for follow-up questions.

Finally, it is important to recognize that the insurance choices that are available before February 1 are greater than the choices available after that date when open enrollment closes for the Obamacare plans. Unless special circumstances apply, only short-term and limited benefit dates are available after that date until the 2017 online enrollment season opens in November.

Happy last-minute online insurance enrollment!

*The web sites that I support contain a more complete disclosure/disclaimer statement on the bottom of each page. The OnlineNavigator.org web site has an “About Us” page that more completely explains my role.

How to handle shock health insurance increases

Today’s Wall Street Journal brought the confirmation that most health insurance advisers already suspected. Medical care utilization under the new Obamacare policies is at record levels. The coming rate increases of high health insurance renewal rates for 2015 and 2016 will pose a financial shock to policyholders. But if you believe as I do that “We have to skate toward where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been” then today’s confirmation should be a call to action.

How will policyholders react when presented with unprecedented premium increases? The nation’s financial advisers and health insurance enrollment firms must adjust strategies to be ready for the market response. We have to be ready to answer consumers when the shock of their premium renewal notice arrives in their mailbox.

The likely response from government will be to simply delay rather than cancel various components of health care reform. (This is the consensus opinion at this time despite increased attention over the past few days to bipartisan political efforts for repeal of some provisions). For affected individuals, this means the health insurance mandate and its related penalties. I predict that penalties will be rolled back for those affected by shock increases. The administrative actions intended to eliminate non-compliant but less expensive health plans will likely also be postponed.

Consumer response is also predictable. We know that rate increased greater than 15% (for example) result in dramatically higher turnover of insurance policies. I expect non-renewal rates of existing Obamacare policies to be about 30% or higher for 2015 and 2016. That means 2 to 3 million people will be desperate for an answer and millions more under significant financial stress due to increasing health care costs.

What can we do to prepare for unprecedented health insurance premium rate increases?

1) Have alternative insurance and non-insurance health plans available. While the coverage is not as good, at least this is an affordable and therefore “doable” solution for those priced out of the health care market. This is especially important to working class people who live in states like Pennsylvania that have not expanded Medicaid enrollment.

2) Talk to families about isolating and managing financial risks. In states with “doctrine of necessities” laws, relatives are financially responsible for uncovered medical care. Health care providers are increasingly adept at locating and enforcing payment for care of a parent, estranged spouse or even an adult child.

3) Propose bold solutions. For some who will be caught in unenviable position of chronic high health care expenses without the ability to afford insurance, the best option may be to relocate to an area where they would have access to care. State control of health insurance is not going to change anytime soon, so the dramatic differences between state coverage and affordability will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.

4) Remain politically active for the long term but do so in a positive manner that is more likely to effect change. There is far too much “Obamamcare bashing” that achieves nothing. Only positive forward-moving influences will be effective.