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Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Marketplace

Author: Jacob Harris

If the term open enrollment makes you a bit anxious, you're already ahead of the game. At least you're aware that health insurance plans have these periods. If you're insured by your employer, open enrollment probably happens once a year in October, November or December. For Medicare, the period in 2015 is October 15 to December 7. And if you qualify for healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, the opening date is November 1, 2015 (see Avoid the Obamacare No-Insurance Penalty by Jan. 31).

According to a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, about 9 in 10 of uninsured Americans do not know when the next open enrollment period for marketplace insurance purchased under the Affordable Care Act begins. Just over half don't know that low and moderate-income people can get financial assistance to help them purchase insurance.

Open Enrollment for marketplace policies started Nov. 1, 2015, for coverage starting as early as Jan. 1, 2016. It ends on Jan. 31, 2016. This is the window for renewing or changing your insurance, or purchasing a policy. However, if you lose your employee-sponsored or other health insurance after the window closes you can apply at any time.

If you need to buy your own insurance, take heart from the fact that, according to a recent Gallup poll, 65% of Americans who are paying for their own insurance, including those buying it in the ACA marketplace, are satisfied with the healthcare system. These satisfaction levels were just slightly lower than those insured by a current or former employer (69%).

Renewing Marketplace Health Insurance

If you enrolled in coverage for 2015, you will likely be automatically renewed in your plan or a similar one for 2016. But it's important to update your income and household information, and check for any increase in costs. Otherwise you could be paying higher premiums than you need to or owe penalties for providing inaccurate information. Click here for details.

Also find out whether your medications will still be covered next year – and what they will cost you. If you are taking any new medications or have other changes in your healthcare needs, make sure your current plan is still the best available choice for you. If you'd like to change plans, you can do so during open enrollment.

If your plan has been cancelled, there's a hotline (1-866-837-0677) for talking to a representative who will help you find coverage.

Rate Increases for 2016

In July, the New York Times reported that "health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20 percent to 40 percent or more" for 2016. Increases were attributed to everything from pent-up demand for care resulting in more claims than predicted to not enough healthy young people signing up.

A subsequent federal analysis stated that prices of the second least expensive silver plan sold through the federal insurance exchange will rise an average of 7.5%. What helps 9 of 10 purchasers of health plans through these exchanges is that they are eligible for tax credits to reduce the overall costs.

For applicants, reports of national or statewide premium changes are not as important as the details of the particular plans you are considering. If you purchased marketplace insurance for 2015, you can compare 2016 plans and prices to your current coverage before you decide whether to stay in the plan you have for 2015 or enroll in a different one. A recent Kaiser Family Fund survey found that in "nearly three-quarters of counties in 36 states served by healthcare.gov, the lowest-priced silver plan this year will not be the lowest priced next year." Sticking to the old plan could mean an average 15% increase in premiums before tax credits are figured in.

The Bottom Line

Even if you're happy with your marketplace health insurance, it's wise to shop around for 2016 coverage. Rates for some policies have soared, while increases for others are quite modest so you want to be sure you have reviewed all your options. It's also important to update your income and household information so that any tax credits you receive will be accurately calculated. For more information, see Tips on the Health Insurance Marketplace/Exchange.

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