ACA health insurance for 2018: Yes, and here’s why it’s worth checking for low-cost options

Despite the news about challenges to the Affordable Care Act, the law is still in place – and low-cost insurance options will still be available for 2018.

Having health insurance is a key part of having access to the benefits of our health care system, from preventive care like immunizations, to challenges like a muscle sprain, to emergencies.

King County’s network of health insurance Navigators, led by Public Health—Seattle & King County, is out spreading the word this month. They’re at community centers, libraries, food banks, and city halls.

The message: King County residents who need insurance should check out the Washington Healthplanfinder website when Open Enrollment begins on Nov. 1. And if you have questions, try the call center or meet with a Navigator or broker (details below).

Daphne Pie manages the Access & Outreach program and the King County network, which has more than 250 Navigators available to help.

Q: What do you say to a resident who says, ‘The news about health insurance is so confusing and I keep hearing it’s going to be more expensive next year – why should I bother spending my time investigating health insurance?’

For most of our clients, we predict the actual cost of insurance for 2018 will not increase – and for some, it might even decrease! I know that sounds weird.  It’s because of how your tax credit is calculated. The tax credit for eligible families is like a rebate – and it automatically increases if the cost goes up for a “benchmark silver plan.”

But people will have to shop and compare to get the best deal. There are a lot of new plan options this year in King County – more than 60 total – so it pays to check them out.

Q: How can I know I’m getting the best plan and the lowest price?

You don’t have to understand all of the details of how that works. That’s what’s great about the Healthplanfinder. When you enter your information, it automatically calculates your tax credit and what each plan would actually cost you.

So, Healthplanfinder has this slogan, ‘Click, compare, get covered.” The website lets you compare plans so you can decide what’s best for you and receive financial help with your costs. This year, they’ve made it easier with the Consumer Decision Support Tool. It guides you to the best health plan available based on your personal medical needs.

That’s the message we’re trying to spread this month, before Open Enrollment begins on November first.

Q: There have been headlines that the federal government is cutting back on outreach.  Is that true in Washington state?

No, we are doing as much outreach as ever. We have a state-operated health exchange, and the Washington state legislature allowed us to expand outreach.

Health insurance Navigators Carmen Olvera and Jennifer Covert bring laptops and answer questions at enrollment events across King County
Health insurance Navigators such as Claudia Sierra and Jennifer Covert bring laptops and answer questions at enrollment events across King County

Our Navigators will be at locations across King County. We will have two “storefronts” that are open five days a week (one in Seattle/Pioneer Square and one in Federal Way).  We’re holding “Health Care Happy Hour” events at Seattle’s Café Solstice, Café Kona in Kent, Star Coffee Restaurant in SeaTac, and at numerous libraries.  All of our Public Health Centers will be helping with enrollment on weekdays and some weekends.  We’ll be back at Bellevue Crossroads Shopping Center for the fifth year in a row.  Our online calendar lists all the enrollment events.

Q: We hear that the percent of people who are uninsured is at the lowest level ever. What are the greatest successes, so far, and where are there still gaps? 

The successes are everywhere in King County – whether you’re middle class or low income, every racial group, every neighborhood. Every population group has benefited. And for children, it’s amazing. We have an uninsured rate of less than two percent!

At Public Health, we continue to keep an eye out for communities that sometimes miss out on opportunities, including people with limited English, the Latino/Hispanic community, which historically has a very high rate of being uninsured, the black/African-American community and the Asian and Pacific-Islander communities. So far, all groups have benefitted from the expansion of coverage.

People who remain uninsured live in communities across King County, with the largest concentrations in Kent, Federal Way, SeaTac, Tukwila, North Seattle, Central Seattle, Bellevue and Renton. We are targeting outreach in these areas.

How to get more information or help:

Call Healthplanfinder’s Call Center – 1-855-923-4633

Call King County’s help line – 1-800-756-5437

Compare insurance plans at Washington Healthplanfinder

Check out King County’s enrollment assistance tips (www.kingcounty.gov/coverage)

Come to an outreach site, listed on our calendar

Find a Navigator anywhere in Washington

Originally published 10/18/2017

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.