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How to Choose Your Obamacare Plan

Illustration for article titled How to Choose Your Obamacare Plan

Photo: Drozd Irina (Shutterstock)

Vowing to “undo the damage Trump has done,” President Biden has signed an executive order that opens a 90-day Affordable Care Act special enrollment period for people to sign up for health insurance.

How to apply

The enrollment period starts Feb. 15 on Healthcare.gov, which is the insurance marketplace that serves 36 states. The remaining 14 states which manage their own marketplaces are expected to open enrollments as well, per the White House. Links to their marketplaces can be found here.

Obamacare gets a boost

The new open enrollment period will be eligible to all Americans without the need for a “qualifying life event” like unemployment or getting married. (Those who already have a health plan through the ACA may change their coverage).

Through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the White House will also run an aggressive outreach campaign, spending $50 million on broadcast and digital advertising, and direct-to-consumer marketing (research shows that many consumers aren’t even aware of the annual open enrollment period at the end of the year). There will also be an outreach program to help consumers with their applications, although exact details are not yet clear, per healthcare Finance News.

As part of the executive order, President Biden also directed federal agencies to examine and improve policies that:

  • Undermine protections for people with preexisting conditions, including complications related to COVID-19.
  • Reduce or undermine the health insurance marketplace or other markets for health insurance.
  • Make it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid and the ACA.
  • Reduce affordability of coverage or financial assistance, including for dependents.

Picking a plan

Rates vary by the state and insurer, and the ACA-qualifying plans have categories known as the metal level (bronze, silver, gold and platinum). Bronze plans have the lowest premiums but the deductibles and co-payments are higher (deductibles are typically about $6,500 for a single person). Gold and platinum plans may have higher premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs.

Around 15 million Americans lack insurance and would be eligible for marketplace coverage, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report. Of that, nearly nine million people could get free or subsidized bronze plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges during the enrollment period. Many people who qualify for a bronze plan are also eligible for cost sharing reductions, which, for some people, make it feasible enroll in a discounted silver plan at a reasonable rate, too. To see if you might be eligible for ACA subsidies, check out this calculator.

A bronze plan is better than no plan at all, even if you never end up spending beyond the high deductible, as the plan will still cover major health expenses from unexpected emergencies.

Not all plans offered on the open market are the same, however. When shopping, stick to marketplace sites, and make sure that an offered plan is compliant with the regulations of ACA and offers all ten categories of health care benefits, which are listed here.

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