Open Enrollment for The Federal Marketplace Is Still Happening, Despite Future Unknowns

Nov 15, 2016

The fourth open enrollment period for the federal health insurance program is in full swing. People who can’t get insurance through an employer, Medicaid or Medicare can now buy private insurance through the Affordable Care Act until Jan. 31.

But there’s some uncertainty about the program’s future this time around.

One of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposals on the campaign trail centered around his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. He said he wants to repeal it, though, it's unclear whether he has a concrete plan for its replacement.

So, when he won last week, that put the future of things like the federal marketplace into question.

But folks like Elizabeth Colvin with Foundation Communities here in Austin say, if you need insurance, that shouldn’t dissuade you from singing up.

“The Affordable Care Act cannot be dismantled overnight, there are contracts in place that cannot be undone,” Colvin explained. “So, people have the opportunity to sign up for health insurance for 2017 to get subsidies that will make the insurance affordable for 2017 and they can rely on having that insurance for next year.”

Colvin says that means people should enroll in the federal marketplace within the next few months.

Anne Dunkelberg with the Center for Public Policy Priorities points out it’s unlikely the whole law will be repealed as soon as Trump takes office.

“If you repeal the whole thing at once you will create a giant budget deficit,” she said. “So, it’s extremely complicated to think about just a straight-up repeal. And it does not seem that the president-elect’s intent is to take a bunch of people who now have insurance and take it away from them," Dunkelberg said. "But it is way too early to know what are the really critical changes.”

Nora Cadena, of Insure Central Texas at Foundation Communities, assists with enrollment in the Affordable Care Act at a Foundation Communities Community Tax Center in North Austin.
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

So, Dunkelberg says, the prudent move for anyone who needs insurance is to sign up for health insurance.

She also suggests, if you signed up during the last couple of years and you still need insurance, take another look at your policy. There might be a better one for you in this year’s marketplace.

Even though there are fewer participating insurance providers, Colvin says there’s still a lot of options here in Austin.  

“Central Texans have about 30 plans to choose from in the marketplace this year from three different insurance companies,” she said. “That’s a lot of choices, especially when you think of how many choices you get from your employer, which is one, two maybe three.”

Colvin says those networks include the big health care providers in town – like Seton and St. David’s.

And, as far as the future is concerned, it's still unclear what will happen.

Dunkelberg says it’s not likely your insurance will just, all of the sudden, go away, though.

“It’s just not the way things are typically done in American politics and policy, to do something dramatic overnight that will potentially leave 20 million people in the lurch, which is roughly how many people we have in the marketplace right now,” she said.