Marketplace Open Enrollment Starts Strong, Despite Navigator Cuts

Less than two months before the 2018 Marketplace open enrollment period began, the federal government announced funding cuts to advertising and enrollment assistance. Now that open enrollment has started, how is the Marketplace faring?

Sam Austin, associate researcher at UW's Population Health Institute, reviewed how the state's largest navigator program, Covering Wisconsin (CWI), has responded to federal cuts, and how open enrollment is shaping up so far.

After a 42% funding reduction, CWI scaled back its physical presence and considered limits to other services beyond direct enrollment (similar to the response from many navigator groups across the country). Fortunately, local governments and nonprofits stepped up to help fill the funding gap, preventing the staffing cuts CWI originally anticipated.

Despite these and other roadblocks - such as weekly scheduled downtime on Healthcare.gov, and general confusion about efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act - initial reports of enrollment in the Marketplace are strong. As of the fourth week of November, almost 2.8 million people across the country had selected plans, including more than 78,000 in Wisconsin.

Possible reasons for the early surge include awareness of the abbreviated enrollment period, shortened this year from 12 weeks to six; and the fact that, for the 80% of Marketplace enrollees who receive subsidies, many may find they're able to purchase plans for free or significantly less this year, despite rising premiums.

Cancer survivors have unique needs when choosing insurance plans. As we shared in the November issue of ENGAGE, CWI worked with the WI Cancer Council to develop the how-to sheet, " Choosing and Using a Health Insurance Plan When Living with Cancer." We encourage members to share this helpful resource with your networks, and to review the steps outlined in the November newsletter to support outreach and enrollment this year.

Bottom line: Here are five key points you should know and share:

  • The open enrollment period this year was cut in half: it began November 1st and ends December 15th.
  • Health plans are available everywhere in Wisconsin.
  • Financial help with premiums and cost-sharing is still available to consumers.
  • All consumers - new and renewing - should return to the Marketplace during open enrollment to explore their options and enroll in health coverage.
  • In-person help is available to help people understand their options and enroll. Call 2-1-1 or go to www.coveringwi.org/enroll.

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