People who do not obtain health insurance through their employer will have an extra week to shop and sign up for 2018 insurance through Maryland Health Connection, the state insurance marketplace.
What was originally a Friday, Dec. 15, deadline has been extended until Friday, Dec. 22, according to The Baltimore Sun.
People not insured through an employer can shop for plans, see if they qualify for Medicaid or tax subsidies for purchasing insurance and enroll by visiting www.marylandhealthconnection.gov or by calling 855-642-8572.
The original Dec. 15 deadline was more than a month earlier than last year, when open enrollment lasted from November 2016 through Jan. 31, 2017. The new, shortened, 45-day enrollment period for insurance in 2018 matches the restricted enrollment period set by the Trump administration for federally operated health insurance exchanges, The Sun reported, but since Maryland operates its own exchange, this deadline could be pushed another week.
Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, told the Times that the earlier deadline really had nothing to do with the federal government’s decision to shorten the enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“We had made the decision to go with a shortened open enrollment earlier in the year,” she said. “What we found is historically, 95 percent of our enrollment had come in by the 15th of December. So we just felt that it was a good choice for us to make and that’s the date we’re going with.”
It’s been going well so far, Eberle said, with overall enrollments in Maryland up by about 10 percent, although Carroll County is lagging slightly behind: As of Dec. 6, Eberle said, 2,973 people had purchased health insurance through the Maryland Health Connection. On Jan. 23, 2017, with more than a week left in open enrollment, there were 3,693 such enrollments in Carroll County.
“We’re hoping that by the end of the week we’ll be on par or better,” Eberle said.
Although the federal government did not have a hand in shortening the open enrollment period, Eberle said, it has had a hand in making 2018 a potentially better deal for those individuals who qualify for a tax credit to help purchase a mid-tier, or “silver plan” through the Maryland Health Connection.
In October, the Trump administration announced an end to cost-sharing reductions, payments from the federal government made to insurance companies to help reduce premiums and co-pays for lower income people who purchased silver plans.
In response, many states, including Maryland, raised the premiums on silver plans offered in the insurance marketplace, Eberle said. Because the tax credits that are paid directly to low-income people to help them offset the cost of insurance are based by statute on the cost of silver plan premiums — as opposed to the cost-sharing reductions, which are paid to insurance companies — this had the effect of raising the amount of money available to help people buy insurance.
“That’s an interesting outcome of the cost-sharing reduction elimination,” Eberle said. “The federal government is actually still paying for the cost-share reduction, it’s just in the form of a tax credit.”
How much will this increase affect those looking to purchase insurance through the Maryland exchange?
According to a post on the Maryland Health Connection website, a family of four making $53,000 could have purchased a silver plan in 2017 for $243 per month, after factoring in a monthly $1,349 tax credit.
That same family of four in 2018, assuming no change in income, is eligible for a $3,900 tax credit, taking their monthly health insurance premium down to $14.
A 21-year-old earning $25,000 could do even better, according to the post. With a $478 tax credit, their monthly premium could be $2 or less in 2018.
Assuming they sign up by Dec. 22 that is.
Eberle said marketing efforts are focused on the final push and letting people know that in-person assistance, to see just what you and your family may qualify for, is important.
“We can’t stress this enough this year: Go see someone,” she said. “Go online, to call our call center, everything you can do to get assistance.”
There is one other way in which federal policy may affect health insurance this year, according to Eberle, and that is the tax bill currently in the Senate. Depending on what happens with that bill and if it is signed into law, she said, it could eliminate the individual mandate, the tax penalty for not carrying insurance in 2018, which currently stands at $695 per person in a household or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater.
“What they would do through that tax bill is reduce the penalty to zero, so it would in essence eliminate the mandate because there would be no penalty,” Eberle said. “They could make it effective for 2018. That is a real possibility.”
But whether the tax penalty will disappear, Eberle said, it’s still very much worth it for people to see what they might qualify for in terms of a tax credit for insurance, as well as the real protection insurance can provide.
“Regardless of whether or not there is a penalty, you never know when the unexpected will happen,” she said. “You never know when you’ll get sick, have an accident, have an unplanned pregnancy — there are so many things that cause you to need health insurance that we strongly recommend folks get health insurance.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this story.