CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The open enrollment period for health insurance in 2015 begins on Saturday through West Virginia’s health insurance exchange — the federally-subsidized marketplace for those who do not have other insurance options.
Last year, roughly 20,000 West Virginians enrolled for coverage during a bumpy national roll-out of the marketplaces that were created in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“(It was) Not as robust as we would have liked,” said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, of those initial enrollment numbers.
In the past year, Bryant said, healthcare.gov has been much improved. This year, browsing plans based on a zip code and income without fully registering on the site is an option.
“(Last year) It was very difficult to set up an account and you had to put in all kinds of information. This is a much easier way to see what options are available to people,” said Bryant on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“A lot of people are pleasantly surprised by the amount of subsidies that are available to them. Some people find, even with the subsidies, that the premiums and deductibles are unaffordable, but people ought to be informed and make a wise decision.”
In addition to new enrollments — from Nov. 15-Feb. 15 — existing plans can be renewed or changed. In order for coverage to take effect on Jan. 1, though, enrollments must be completed by Dec. 15.
The penalties for not having insurance will go up in the New Year.
For the 2014 coverage year, those without health insurance will pay one percent of their yearly income or $95 per person ($47.50 per child under 18) when filing their 2014 federal tax returns.
For 2015, those without insurance will pay the higher of these two amounts: two percent of yearly household income or $325 per person ($162.50 per child under 18) with the maximum penalty per family being $975.
The fee will continue to rise in subsequent years.
“A lot of people are going to look at those penalties and they’re going to say, ‘It’s better for me to be insured and have a policy,'” Bryant said.
For a second year, those looking for health insurance on West Virginia’s exchange will again only see plans from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Kentucky Health Cooperative, a Kentucky-based nonprofit insurance company, had been approved to join West Virginia’s marketplace, but — in a decision announced last week — delayed that move until next year citing infrastructure support issues.
“We were disappointed, not only that they were going to be the only other carrier in the marketplace, but then they withdrew at the last minute,” Bryant said. “Part of the premise of the marketplace is that competition will hold down premiums and deductibles.”
Dozens of companies are offering healthcare plans in exchanges in other parts of the country.
Enrollment information can be accessed online through healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. In-person enrollment assistance is also available at sites throughout West Virginia like senior centers, physician offices and other healthcare locations.
There is no enrollment period for those who qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Those programs are available year-round.