Archive for Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Federal officials urge consumers to shop around for 2016 health plan

October 28, 2015

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— Federal health care officials say consumers who buy their health insurance on the new exchange markets may be able to find significant savings while keeping the same level of coverage next year, if they shop carefully.

"We know that the relatively high rate of switchers in the marketplace are telling us that consumers are using the marketplace to actively shop, and that they are finding significant savings when they do," said Stephene Moore, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that operates the health insurance exchange market in Kansas.

Under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, most individuals are required to carry health insurance. Those who don't will face a tax penalty the following year.

People in Kansas who don't receive insurance through their employer, or who can't afford their employer-based coverage, can buy insurance through HHS's web-based exchange market, Healthcare.gov. Open enrollment to obtain coverage for 2016 through that system begins Sunday, Nov. 1.

Moore spoke during a telephone news conference Wednesday to release a new report that showed people who shopped carefully in 2014 were able to find significant savings, even while keeping their same level of coverage.

And an HHS spokesman in Washington said officials believe that will be the case again this year.

"If all the consumers switch from their current plan to the lowest-cost plan in the same metal level, the same level of coverage, consumers could save an average of $610 annually, before tax credits," HHS spokesman Kevin Griffis said.

The exchange offers plans in four different categories — bronze, silver, gold and platinum — based on the cost of premiums and the amount of deductibles and co-pays they require.

Many people have been anxious over the prices they will see on the exchange market this year because of rate hikes overall in the health insurance market, and because Coventry, one of the companies offering coverage on the exchange market, recently announced it will pull out of the program in 2016.

The average increase for Kansas plans is expected to be 16.1 percent, Griffis said.

But he said Coventry's withdrawal won't affect the rates available from the two other companies in the Kansas market, Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare. And he said most consumers who buy on the exchange qualify for federal tax credits that will shield them from the impact of rate increases.

"The tax credits that people receive are aligned with the benchmark plans, and so when you see an increase in the benchmark plan, you'll see a roughly corresponding increase in the tax credits that are available to people," he said.

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