Healthcare open enrollment starts, expect to pay more

The HealthCare.gov 2017 web site home page as seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The Obama administration is confirming that premiums will go up sharply next year for health insurance sold to millions of consumers through HealthCare.gov.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The HealthCare.gov 2017 web site home page as seen in Washington, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The Obama administration is confirming that premiums will go up sharply next year for health insurance sold to millions of consumers through HealthCare.gov. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act begins Tuesday and Central Texans will see some big changes that could cost them more money. This year the number of insurance companies offering plans has dropped from eight down to three.

There will be 30 different plans to choose from but the cost is expected to go up by about 18 percent, that’s slightly below the national level of 25 percent. That increase amounts to $20 to $50 more per month. However, those making about $10 per hour won’t see a change in cost because the financial assistance has gone up.

Small business owner Trey Xander was one of the many Texans disappointed to learn their insurance company dropped out of the federal marketplace.

“It was just very unfortunate because it made me feel like my options and my choices were becoming more limited, leaving me to go and start from scratch,” said Xander.

Xander is owner and chief designer at Jevin Studios in Round Rock, and says he’s had to spend hours away from his business dealing with his insurance. While he is a big proponent of the Affordable Care Act, he says it has caused a lot of frustration. When he needed a specialist, Xander started discovering problems with the coverage, and ultimately paid a lot of money out-of-pocket.

“It was just another frustration on top of what was already becoming a frustration, finding that I was having difficulty finding people accepting my insurance — and then to find it was being dropped.”

Sharon Alvis, president of Vista360Health, says they’ve been hearing from a lot of frustrated Texans. The new private insurance company serves people in Travis, Hays, Williamson and Bastrop counties.

“We’re hearing there’s a lot of angst, if you will, people are worried, they have to make a change, it’s complicated,” said Alvis. She says for those who qualify for subsidies, they will still benefit from the federal exchange. While consumers have less choices now, the subsidies will help offset the rising premiums.

“If not, you can talk to a broker, you can call an organization like ours and we will help you,” said Alvis. “But you kind of have to shop around and find it, because there’s not exactly a private exchange.”

Alvis says insurance companies are likely dropping out of the federal marketplace for financial reasons. “What we hear, what we reading about, is they are losing money. Losing money in the individual and small group market, so they’re vacating the market,” said Alvis.

United Healthcare, Aetna, Scott and White and Cigna are all leaving the federal exchange. That leaves just three carriers to choose from in the Austin area, but 30 different plans.

“What we want people to do is shop around since prices have changed,” said Elizabeth Colvin, director of Health Insurance for Foundation Communities. “So if they are in a plan that has increased dramatically we want them to know there is very likely a lower priced plan available to them so it’s really important to shop around.”

For those who don’t enroll or aren’t employed by a company that offers health insurance the government does issue a financial penalty. This next year it’s $695 per adult in the household and $347 for each child or 2.5 percent of your income, whichever one is greater.

Those in need of help trying to find a plan or have questions about whether they could face a fine from the government. Foundation Communities offers free help Monday through Thursday between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at their location at 5900 Airport Blvd. Last year the agency helped 9,000 people.

Open enrollment runs Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, 2017.

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