Got (or need) Obamacare? Once again, you need to shop around

Screenshot of banner on healthcare.gov for 2016

In its third year of implementation, Obamacare enrollments haven’t yet shaken out to a stable and predictable pattern. It’s the same in the health insurance market as a whole, but people pay a lot more attention to this one, so you’re hearing more about it. The first rush of enrollments by the most informed and the most in need of insurance was completed in the first two rounds, so enrollments will be down this time. For those enrolling for the first time—and re-enrolling—Jonathon Cohn has an overview of the things to know going in.
The first thing is don’t necessarily assume that premiums are going to be really high based on what you’re hearing in the news. Premiums are going to be all over the place, depending on where you live and what plans you have available to you and your individual circumstances. While overall “the cost of the cheapest

plans are rising by 13 percent in the healthcare.gov markets,” in some markets they’re decreasing. As Cohn says, there’s context to consider when looking at year-to-year premium comparison.

Premiums in Billings, Montana, are way up, according to Kaiser’s analysis, while the premiums in Hartford, Connecticut, are coming down a little bit. But both will end up at $322 a month, which works out to $3,864 a year. To get some perspective, the average annual premium for insurance from an employer is now more than $6,000.

It’s also important to keep in mind that most of the reported premium increases don’t take into account the tax credits more than three-quarters of enrollees will get. These subsidies will insulate most enrollees from feeling the big premium increase. In fact, “Kaiser’s analysts factored in those tax credits [and found] average premium change from 2015 to 2016 basically came down to zero.”
There is just one constant from year-to-year for everyone from those new to the market to re-enrollees: You have to shop around for the best deal and you might have to change plans to get it. That’s not always ideal, particularly for people with chronic conditions who will want to stick with their providers. But between the subsidies and the competition in the exchanges, many enrollees will be able to avoid higher premiums. In that, though, is a final caveat: Look at the deductibles and out-of-pocket spending in the plans and use the new online tool at Healthcare.gov to do that comparison shopping.

Open enrollment lasts until January 31, 2016. As always, people with qualifying life events—divorce, job loss, having a child, relocating—and  those who qualify for Medicaid expansion (in the states that accepted it) can enroll any time.

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