Short window for sign-ups to Obamacare

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Ryan Silvola/Beloit Daily News(From left): Beloiter April Crawford and Ana Montoya, outreach and enrollment coordinator at the Beloit Area Community Health Center, discuss potential insurance plans for Crawford on Wednesday. The Affordable Care Act open enrollment period opened on Nov. 1 and runs until Dec. 15.

BELOIT - Officials at the Beloit Area Community Health Center (BACHC) are warning residents that the open enrollment window to sign up for the Affordable Care Act is shrinking this year.

However, BACHC is offering free enrollment guidance sessions for those who may need help selecting a plan.

April Crawford, of Beloit, met with Ana Montoya, BACHC outreach and enrollment coordinator, on Wednesday to select a plan. She first contacted the Health Insurance Marketplace at Healthcare.gov, but said she was confused and reached out to BACHC for help explaining her options.

Montoya said it helps to visualize the plans over just talking about them on the phone.

The enrollment period for Obamacare opened Nov. 1 has traditionally gone until Jan. 31. However, this year the period was shortened and only runs until Dec. 15. Funding for advertising the enrollment period also has been largely cut as Republican majorities in Congress and President Trump have struggled to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

According to the 2017-2020 Rock County Health Assessment, 9 percent of adult county residents are uninsured. Enroll America estimates 11 percent of Rock County residents were uninsured in 2016.

Montoya said many are still under the impression open enrollment will go until Dec. 31 and won't see all of the radio and billboard advertisements like they used to. For those who are already enrolled, they'll be getting a notice their premiums are going up. They can then choose to do nothing or shop around for other insurance plans.

"New people are really getting the short end of the stick," Montoya said.

Crawford lost her previous insurance and signed up for the Affordable Care Act coverage with Montoya's help in October, thinking she would be covered for 2018. However, she later learned she would have to re-enroll and likely pick a new plan, as her current plan's premium is rising from $54 to $114. This would mean she would have to switch providers and no longer utilize the Beloit clinic.

Montoya said a person's budget is often the greatest factor when selecting an insurance plan, second to the plan's coverage. When guiding residents through selecting insurance, she asks them to bring in their projected income for 2018 as well as their current income. She also asks them what's going to fit into their budget and how often they go to the doctor.

Across the board, premiums for all of the plans in Wisconsin increased approximately 36 percent. However, she noted that having good tax credits helps keep premiums actually paid by individuals using the coverage low.

It's important to work with someone who is a certified application counselor, such as Montoya and a few other BACHC employees to help to explain what residents' deductibles and copayments as well as which providers will be in and out of network, she said. There also are special enrollment periods for everyone if they meet certain criteria, such as losing a job or health insurance, getting married, moving to a different state or gaining citizenship or legal residency.

If residents are able to decide on a plan, BACHC staff can sign them up during the session. Montoya said they just have to pay for the insurance by Jan. 1. Sessions take around 30 minutes to one hour.

She recommends making an appointment to make sure the staff has enough time to dedicate to each person.

After meeting with Montoya, Crawford was confident she would be able to select an insurance plan that worked for her.

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