Health Insurance 2019: Exploring Your Options
Open Enrollment Starts Soon
The Affordable Care Act or ACA has opened its open enrollment period. ACA makes health insurance more affordable and accessible to millions, and even better, it covers birth control for women without any out-of-pocket costs.
However, all of these awesome benefits can’t happen unless you have insurance, which requires you to sign up. And that’s easy, just go to HealthCare.gov to find out what health plan works for you.
This year’s enrollment period is short though. So here’s what you need to know, or if you have health insurance already, make sure those in your life that don’t have it, have the correct information, i.e., help us spread the word!
Save the Date
The open enrollment period for 2019 goes from November 1 to December 15, 2018. That’s only 6 weeks to pick a new plan. And one thing that is different this year is that every Sunday (except the final Sunday, December 9) the website will be down for maintenance from midnight (12 am) to noon (12 pm).
Some states that have their own healthcare exchange, and several have slightly longer enrollment periods. But you’ll need to sign up for coverage by December 15 (in Massachusetts and Rhode Island you have until December 23) to have coverage on January 1. The states with extended enrollment (and their websites) are:
- California: October 15, 2018 to January 15, 2019 (Covered California)
- Colorado: November 1, 2018 to January 15, 2019 (Connect for Health Co)
- Connecticut: November 1 to December 15, 2018 (Access Health CT)
- District of Columbia: November 1, 2018 to January 31, 2019 (DC Health Link)
- Idaho: November 1 to December 15, 2018 (Your Idaho Health)
- Maryland: November 1 to December 15, 2018 (Maryland Health Connection)
- Massachusetts: November 1, 2018 to January 23, 2019 (Massachusetts Health Connector)
- Minnesota: November 1, 2018 to January 13, 2019 (MN Sure)
- New York: November 1, 2017 to January 31, 2019 (New York State of Health)
- Rhode Island: November 1 to December 31 (Healthsource RI)
- Vermont: November 1 to December 15, 2018 (Vermont Health Connect)
- Washington: November 1 to December 15, 2018 (Washington Health Benefit Connector)
Shopping for the Plan That Suits Your Needs
If you don’t have insurance go to HealthCare.gov and fill out an application.
If you already have health insurance through the ACA, you should still make sure all of your information is up to date. It’s also a good idea to browse available plans, even if your information is accurate, as the plan you have this year may not be the best value available for you in 2019. It always pays to shop around.
The health insurance marketplace allows you to compare different plans to select the one that’s the best fit for you. You can sort plans by the cost of premiums, or by how much you might expect to pay in deductibles before coverage begins.
Once you’ve shopped around and found the plan that you want, here are some tips:
- Get your paperwork ready: To sign up for coverage, you’ll need everything on this checklist.
- Use a computer: The healthcare marketplace is not mobile-friendly. If you don’t have a computer, head over to your local library to enroll.
- There’s help if you need it: If you need foreign language help or other assistance, the Healthcare.gov website has a directory that can help connect you to local resources.
- Don’t wait until the last minute: Six weeks can go by quickly, but enrolling at the last minute could increase your chances of experiencing technical difficulties.
If your income is below a certain level, you may be eligible for financial assistance to help you get covered and stay covered.
- Subsidies (a.k.a. premium tax credits) will lower your monthly payments (called premiums) for your health plan if you qualify.
- Cost-sharing reductions allow you to pay less out-of-pocket for deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments.
- Medicaid is a health insurance program for low-income individuals and families. Eligibility generally depends on your income and household size and it can vary a lot from state to state. As of September 2018, 34 states (and DC) have opted to expand their Medicaid eligibility. If your state is one of them and your income is below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level, you should be covered.
Birth Control Included?
Plans sold through the health insurance marketplace must cover at least one option for each FDA-approved birth control methods for women without copays or deductibles. These rules apply to all Marketplace plans, so your 2019 plan should cover your preferred birth control method. When you go to the pharmacy to pick up your pill pack or to your health care provider to have an IUD put in, the cost to you should be $0.
The FDA-approved methods include both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs, the implant, the pill, the patch, the shot, the ring, diaphragms, cervical caps, and sterilization procedures. Birth control that you can buy over-the-counter—like the sponge, internal condoms, and some emergency contraceptives—is also included, but to get it covered your plan might require you to have a prescription from your provider.
While your insurance company has to cover all birth control methods, it doesn’t necessarily cover all brands. If you and your provider agree that a certain brand-name birth control is best for you, your provider must notify them and explain why you need to use that particular brand. Only then is your insurance required to cover it. Employers or schools with religious objections to providing birth control coverage are exempt from this rule.
If you find yourself confused about the price of your birth control, the National Women’s Law Center can help.
Know Your Benefits
Beyond birth control, the ACA ensures that many other women’s preventive health services are fully covered. There’s a long list of benefits, but here are a few highlights:
- well-woman visits;
- counseling on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV;
- the HPV vaccine;
- depression screening;
- intimate partner violence counseling;
- a wide range of prenatal screenings and tests; and
- breastfeeding counseling and supplies.
Whether you’re buying insurance for the first time or shopping around to see if there’s a better option for you, feel good about staying on top of your health. You’re worth it.