Illinois is adding more information to getcovered.illinois.gov, its Obamacare website, on Wednesday, allowing consumers on the first day of open enrollment to look at and enroll in all individual plans both on and off the exchange.
The state also has expanded the hours of its help line and established a phone number for consumers to talk to a licensed broker, for free, about gaining coverage. In recent years, the website hasn’t included information about all the plans or the ability to enroll in them or talk to licensed brokers.
The changes come as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has been critical of the Affordable Care Actand the federal government has cut outreach and shortened the window for buying health insurance on the exchange.
Most Illinois residents get insurance coverage through their employers or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. But this year, more than 350,000 Illinoisans enrolled in coverage through the Obamacare exchange, and many others chose individual plans outside of the exchange.
Illinois Department of Insurance Director Jennifer Hammer said in a September statement, “There is no question that major structural flaws in the (Affordable Care Act) have forced higher insurance rates and separated families from trusted physicians and hospitals.”
But on Friday, she said, “The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land and our mission is to protect consumers and provide a vital and robust insurance marketplace, and we are going to utilize all the tools available to the department to help consumers get the best plan and product.”
The department used part of a $1 million state appropriation to overhaul the site and its services, Hammer said.
“As we have been watching for the past few months the uncertainty in Washington, it became apparent to us we needed to be proactive to make sure consumers had all the best tools and products,” Hammer said.
Many consumers in Illinois and across the country are facing higher premiums and fewer choices for plans on the exchange. Average rates in Illinois are set to increase by 16 to 37 percent next year for the lowest-priced plans, according to the state.
Open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. In years past, it’s run until Jan. 31. Also, the website where people may buy coverage, www.healthcare.gov, will be down for maintenance most Sunday mornings during open enrollment. Illinois consumers will still be able to enroll in plans at getcovered.illinois.gov even when the federal site is down those Sundays, Hammer said.
Insurance companies have attributed much of the price increases this year to uncertainty over federal subsidies known as cost-sharing reduction payments. Those payments compensate insurers for reducing deductible and copay costs for lower-income consumers who buy insurance on the exchange. President Donald Trump has decided to end those payments to insurers, though they will still have to provide the discounts to consumers.
Illinois is one of a number of states that has attempted to mitigate the expense to consumers by instructing insurance companies to load the extra costs of not getting those federal subsidies into silver-level plans. That could help consumers who qualify for tax credits, which included more than 80 percent of Illinois consumers on the exchange as of February of this year. That's because the tax credit levels rise based on the price of the second-lowest-cost silver plan.
For example, in most Illinois counties (not including Cook and Lake) a 40-year-old with an income of $25,000 will be able to enroll in the lowest-priced bronze plan next year for free, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In Cook County, that same person will pay $32 a month, and in Lake County, that person will pay $31 a month, according to Kaiser. The higher a person’s income, the less money in tax credits they get to offset their monthly premiums.