CARBONDALE — The race is on — open enrollment for the healthcare marketplace began Nov. 1 and the state is working fast to make up for a drastically shortened enrollment period by improving the shopping experience.
With just half of the enrollment days this year — six weeks as opposed to last year’s 12 — representatives from the Illinois Department of Insurance are working to get as many people insured as possible in this window.
That means upping their game in the shortened time frame. Jennifer Hammer, director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, said they have added about 230 extra phone hours, extending their hours to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They will be closed Thanksgiving. She also said this year the people at the other end of the line will be licensed health support agents.
Illinois is partnering with GoHealth for its healthcare marketplace interface and delivery. Michael Mahoney, GoHealth’s vice president for consumer marketing, said they are working hard to make purchasing healthcare as comfortable as possible, especially given the reduction in the open enrollment period. He said one way they do this is by showing a wide variety of plans to customers.
“Our site lists a variety of on- and off-exchange plans,” Mahoney said. That means GoHealth’s website shows plans that both receive and do not receive government subsidies, he said.
Should someone want to speak face-to-face, Hammer also said using the getcoveredillinois.gov website, customers can use a navigator tool to locate and connect with a real person to meet in their area. She said her department is also planning a 102-county tour to help provide information to customers. She said they plan to reach every community.
This isn’t just about simply getting insurance, though. It’s about getting the right coverage. Hammer said it is important that customers not passively enroll.
“No action is the worst action,” she said. Hammer wants to make sure customers are aware of how their plans might change.
“Keeping your plan does not mean that your premium will stay the same nor the benefits will stay the same,” Mahoney said.
“Cost should not be the only factor,” Hammer said, adding that her department is “encouraging people to shop around.”
Hammer said the recent elimination of cost sharing by the Trump administration will affect premiums — however, she said this year they are not going up as much as they have in the past. She said while premiums may be going up, so too are subsidies in some cases. Hammer provided the example of customers with “silver-level plans.” She explained that 86 percent of them will be able to greatly offset increasing premium costs with proportionally increased tax credits. Hammer did emphasize that 14 percent of silver level customers will not receive credits and could incur a 15-percent average increase, which is why she strongly encouraged people to go to the website and shop.
Hammer said when it comes down to it, it is incredibly important to get covered within the six-week time frame to avoid penalties and fines. She said there is no guarantee that the federal government will be as lenient with late-comers as they have been in previous years.
“Previously, if someone in the process of enrollment and it was a few minutes after (the deadline), the feds extended somewhat, but that’s up to the feds,” Hammer said.