The fourth open enrollment period for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace is less than a month away.
This time things will be different, though.
The Trump administration cut the open enrollment period from three months to only six weeks. Federal health officials also said they’re going to shut down the marketplace's website more often this year for maintenance.
That’s why advocacy groups and local health officials say they are working harder to get the word out and get people enrolled.
“We have doubled the enrollment specialists that are going to be available,” said Michelle Tijerina, who does community outreach for Central Health. The agency, funded by property taxes in Travis County, provides health-care services to low-income residents. “We will have double the staffing available since we have half the time.”
Tijerina said local health officials are doing more to make sure the Trump administration's changes don’t stop people from signing up. She said Central Health wants to make getting a plan through the Obamacare marketplace as easy as possible.
“They just have to call 2-1-1, press option 1,” she said. “Ask for Enroll ATX. They can get appointments. We have walk-in centers, both north and south.”
Tijerina said these centers will help people look at their options and sign up for a plan that works best. She said they’ll also be open seven days a week.
The program director for Foundation Communities, which has been helping with Obamacare enrollment for years, said people shopping for a plan will also find more options this year.
“Our market is growing,” Elizabeth Colvin said. “We have three insurers this past year and a new insurer is joining in our market, which means consumers will have more plan choices.”
Colvin said everyone should shop around instead of just renewing the plan they have now, because the marketplace is changing and so are prices. Some premiums are going up, she said, because there's uncertainty in the insurance market because of what's happening on Capitol Hill.
But Colvin said the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, and people who need help paying for more expensive plans will get that help.
“Lower-income families who are receiving rich subsidies this year are going to be shielded from those premium increases,” she said. “So, it’s very important that people get the right information about what their plan will cost, because it’s different for everyone.”
People have until Dec. 15 to enroll for an insurance plan in the Obamacare marketplace. Enroll ATX is scheduling appointments for those who want to get a plan as soon as enrollment begins in November.