Open Enrollment For The Obamacare Marketplace Starts This Week

Oct 28, 2019

Texans can start buying health insurance through the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act later this week. Open enrollment for the online marketplace, healthcare.gov, starts Friday Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15 this year.

The marketplace was created by the federal health law for people who don’t get insurance through an employer, Medicaid or Medicare.

For Austinites who purchased health care plans through the marketplace last year, options will look very similar this time around. Like last year – and the year before –there are still the same four insurance providers selling plans here in the Austin area: Ambetter, Sendero, Oscar and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

According to data from federal health officials, the least expensive plans in every insurance tier changed a little. For adults who are 27 years old, the least expensive bronze plan for the upcoming 2020 coverage period will be about $2 per month cheaper than in 2019.

However, silver and gold plans became slightly more expensive, about $14 and $10 more a month, respectively.

For adults in Travis County who are 40 years old, the least expensive bronze plan is also $2 cheaper this upcoming coverage year – and silver and gold plans are $17 and $12 more expensive per month, respectively.

Kori Hattemer is the director of financial programs for Foundation Communities, which helps people navigate the Obamacare marketplace website. She said, overall, prices in Austin’s market haven’t gone through any big changes in the past few years.

“Consistency and stability is a good thing,” Hattemer said. “It shows that the insurers are committed to continuing to provide plans and that consumers can expect consistency year after year.”

However, there has been a slight dip in enrollment in Texas under the Trump administration.

According to figures from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), at the end of the last enrollment period, 1,126,838 people signed up for plans in Texas. The previous year, 1,227,290 Texans bought insurance through the online marketplace.

Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the decreases are likely due to the Trump administration’s cuts to funding for navigators who help people sign up – as well as decreased funding for outreach. The Trump administration also eliminated payments to insurance companies that were aimed at lowering premiums for people buying plans on the health law’s market. Pogue said that move has mostly affected people who make too much money to qualify for subsidies.

“Despite the fact that there is political wrangling with the Affordable Care Act and lots of fights to take away coverage in the last couple of years,” Pogue said, “when you look at actual coverage in the marketplace, it’s remarkably stable.”

Pogue said because the federal government still helps pay for people’s premiums in the marketplace, it remains affordable for many Texans. She said nine out of 10 Texans get federal subsidies to afford their premiums. Pogue said, in turn, this has kept a consistent base of customers for insurers. In fact, she said for the 2020 coverage cycle a couple of insurers have moved into the Texas market.

“The ACA is still the law of the land and the federal funding that comes with it is too,” said Pogue. “That means that in Texas we can help upwards of a million people – who wouldn’t be able to afford coverage otherwise – get affordable marketplace plans.”