Open enrollment for customers of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. A lot has changed that people will need to know.
Here are some important points. In addition, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will answer questions at noon Nov. 1 on the AJC's main Facebook page.
Q: How long do I have to enroll?
A: Until Dec. 15. That's a big change from previous years. You do not have until after school's out, and you don't have until after the holidays. You have from Nov. 1 until Dec. 15 at 11:59 p.m.
Q: I heard Obamacare got undone.
A: No. There have been changes to the process, but Obamacare is still in place and so is the national mandate that every individual have health insurance. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the past few months of rhetoric in Washington has caused confusion: Nearly 40 percent of the uninsured think the individual mandate has been repealed or that it's no longer in effect. But they're wrong. It's still in effect.
Q: I heard subsidies went away.
A: Not for plan holders; they still get subsidies. The fundamental idea that Obamacare would help lower-income people get affordable insurance is still in effect. The funding did change, and prices will be much higher for people outside the assistance bracket. But those who make less than about $50,000 a year will still get lower-cost, subsidized insurance.
Q: What if the website doesn’t work?
A: Try again or call. The website is scheduled to be down for maintenance early on the first day, Nov. 1, but then go up again. It's also scheduled to be down most Sundays until noon, so you just need to try after noon. The website is also programmed to put you in a "waiting room" if traffic is too heavy for a moment, but you should be notified if that happens.
Q: What’s the website?
Q: Can I enroll now?
A: Not until Nov. 1. That's when enrollment opens.
Q: Can I window shop before Nov. 1?
A: You should be able to. The federal agency that runs Obamacare posted the database for plan prices online on Oct. 25. If you do window shop and see plans posted for you, make sure the information is dated for 2018 plans, not 2017. You're shopping for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2018.
Q: I need help.
A: You bet. There is a lot of information available from people set up to assist. There's the government website's assistance staff, and there are nonprofit "navigators" who are trained to help for free, as well as traditional for-profit insurance agents. Read on.
Q: What’s a navigator?
A: The health care law established navigators. They've been trained to help you through the system, to make the right choice whether it's an Obamacare plan or something else.
Q: How do I find a navigator?
A: There are a handful of navigator organizations in Georgia. The biggest is called Insure Georgia. Its website is insurega.org (you can browse or click "Get Personalized Help"), and it provides help across the state. Its phone number is 1-866-988-8246. If you want to see someone in person, it will tell you how to get to one of hundreds of events such as fairs where it will put up booths. It also has a search function where you can put in your ZIP code and get the address of a place with "assisters," such as Mercy Care at St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
Q: How do I get help directly from the enrollment website?
A: The enrollment website, healthcare.gov, has a "Get Help" section with lots of facts and questions answered, as well as a help phone number, 1-800-318-2596.
Q: Is there other help I can get?
A: Yes. Go to "Find Local Help" on the enrollment website, https://localhelp.healthcare.gov, and put in your ZIP code and click "continue." That should bring up names of insurance agents or others who are licensed to enroll people. If you put in your ZIP code, click "continue" and nothing happens, try it again but punch in a ZIP code where the website sees the ZIP code and brings up an autofill suggestion of that ZIP code and its city name. Click on that. The "continue" button should change color and then you can click on it and get your list.
Q. Have navigators changed?
A: Under the new administration they'll be evaluated just on how many people they enroll in Obamacare at their sites. Georgia's navigators, however, say they will still answer questions about other programs such as CHIP, Medicare and Medicaid, steer people to the best choice for them, and will still give someone information if they want to go home to discuss it and do the final sign-up online at home. Also, the administration cut funding for them, so there are fewer this year.
Q: What if I’m already enrolled?
A: The federal agency running enrollment says you will be automatically re-enrolled, BUT you are still encouraged to go back in and update your information and select a plan for 2018 anyway. If you don't do it yourself, you might lose important tax-credit benefits or get enrolled in a different plan.
Q: Why can’t I re-enroll in my same plan?
A: In Georgia the federal turmoil has caused a lot of change in which companies cover which counties. Blue Cross pulled out of metro Atlanta, for example. This is going to be a very big change.
Q: What about the orders President Donald Trump just signed? Can I sign up for one of those new association plans?
A: No. Those decisions won't take effect for some time because the government has to go through months of setting them up.