By Marcy Stamper
People who don’t get health insurance through their job and who don’t qualify for the state’s Apple Health coverage have less than a week to get health insurance for 2018.
The deadline is for policies bought through the state’s Obamacare marketplace (the Health Benefit Exchange) or directly from an insurer. Anyone who wants health coverage for this year must buy a policy by Monday (Jan. 15).
Buying a policy through the exchange is the only way people who qualify can receive subsidies, either as a tax credit — generally available to people earning between $12,000 and $48,000 — or a cost-sharing reduction, which lowers copays and deductibles and is available to people earning up to $31,000.
After Jan. 15, the open-enrollment period for health insurance for 2018 ends and only people with certain situations — such as getting married or having a baby, or losing health coverage provided by an employer — can get health insurance this year. People whose income is low enough to qualify for Apple Health can enroll at any time, as can Native Americans.
In 2018, people are still required to have health insurance or to pay a penalty when filing their taxes. The tax law signed by President Trump at the end of December eliminates the penalty — but not the individual mandate itself — starting in 2019, although some who track the health insurance market say that the Trump administration may waive the penalty this year.
The penalty was set at $695 in 2016 and increases with inflation, or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher.
The theory behind the mandate was to increase the incentive for healthy people to buy insurance, thereby balancing out the costs for others who need more costly health care.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that repealing the penalty could increase premiums by 10 percent, causing 13 million more people to be uninsured within a decade. But the CBO expects that health-insurance markets will nevertheless remain relatively stable.
This week, two Democrats in the state Legislature introduced a bill proposed by Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler that would create a reinsurance system to encourage insurers to offer more choices and lower premiums.
Reinsurance would provide partial reimbursement to insurers for medical claims above a certain threshold. The cost of the reinsurance program is estimated at $200 million annually, with about one-fourth paid by the federal government, according to the insurance commissioner.
The proposal grew out of an objective to create more certainty and options for the 300,000 Washingtonians insured through the state exchange. Insurers have reduced the number of policies they’re offering and didn’t even plan to sell insurance in all Washington counties this year until Kreidler negotiated a satisfactory arrangement with the companies.
This year, Okanogan County residents have eight plans to choose from in the exchange — four from LifeWise Health Plan of Washington and four from Premera Blue Cross — with subsidies available. Asuris Northwest Health is selling five plans outside the exchange. They do not provide subsidies.
Visit the exchange at www.wahealthplanfinder.org to research plans or find a navigator or a broker to help. Call the exchange at 1-855-923-4633, weekdays 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Open enrollment ends Jan. 15; coverage would start Feb. 1.