The beginning of a new year means many things, but for many American families it means the beginning of a new cycle of Obamacare health coverage. With the many changes implemented by the Trump administration in 2017, 2018 could be a momentous year unlike the years that preceded it. Among the changes that the Trump administration instituted were major changes to the Obamacare open enrollment period (OEP) that made enrolling more challenging.
Signing up for a health plan sponsored by the Affordable Care Act has always been somewhat difficult. Although federal and state administrators have tried to make enrollment as simple as possible, there are some inherent difficulties in applying for health coverage, determining eligibility for tax credits and choosing the right plan for your family.
That is why the Obama administration allocated millions of dollars to health care navigators, i.e. community organizations that answered questions about Obamacare. However, the federal government slashed funding by 90 percent in 2017, forcing major cutbacks in these assistance organizations. Instead, prospective enrollees are now directed to insurance agents and brokers to obtain answers to their concerns.
How Open Enrollment Has Changed
President Donald Trump and his Republican colleagues have made no secret of the fact that they would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars since its passage in 2010. That is why they have enacted a number of changes in how people enroll in Obamacare coverage. The most obvious change to the OEP was the dramatic shortening from what was once more than two months, to about six weeks. For many people who were expecting open enrollment to last through January, they will be surprised and disappointed that it ends on Dec. 15.
This also means that you will have less time to evaluate other changes to ACA-sponsored health plans and make the best choice for your family. These changes include major price hikes for silver tier plans; on average, silver plans will likely rise 37 percent for 2018. On the other hand, many gold tier plans are rising comparatively little, making some gold plans cheaper than silver plans. However, you should keep in mind, that these premium changes depend on where you live.
There are also some new bronze tier plans that the Trump administration designed. These “expanded bronze” plans have lower premiums but higher out-of-pockets costs like deductibles and copayments. Starting 2018, Americans can now use their health savings accounts to obtain health insurance policies off of the federal marketplaces.
Why Brokers Are So Important Now
In addition to a shorter enrollment period and plan pricing changes, consumers can now avoid federal and state agencies and enroll in an Obamacare plan through an insurance agent or broker. This allows prospective enrollees to speak with a knowledgeable insurance professional who can immediately answer questions and provide relevant advice. Some critics, however, are concerned that these insurance professionals may prioritize sales of certain policies of organizations that they may have relationships with, at the expense of consumers who might have benefited more from an alternative plan.
That is why prospective Obamacare enrollees are better off finding a policy through an insurance broker rather than an insurance agent. Unlike insurance agents that are employed by one or more insurance companies, insurance brokers are independent. Brokers have no financial relationship with insurers and are more concerned with finding the ideal policy for the consumer. Many brokers like Boost Health Insurance have worked for years in the industry, obtaining in-depth expertise of health plans and carriers that they can use to better serve their clients. Furthermore, some insurance brokers also have access to specialized health insurance policies not available to the general public.
As independent insurance experts, brokers have become a highly sought out resource for prospective Obamacare enrollees. With the reduction in community navigators, brokers have become the insurance professional of choice for people unfamiliar with ACA-sponsored health plans. Due to the shortened enrollment period, more people are requesting assistance during a contracted shopping season, leaving brokers with relatively little time. The added pressure on insurance brokers means they may not be available to everyone who needs one.
Many brokers recognize that they are taking the place of non-profit professionals and that they must devote the bulk of their time to explaining the basics of health insurance and the Obamacare marketplace before analyzing a client’s finances to determine if they qualify for the government subsidies. In return for their large time investment, many brokers may only get a handful of actual enrollments.
The Future of Insurance Brokers
It is unlikely that the Trump administration will raise the budget for community navigators, so for the next few years, at least, insurance agents and brokers should continue to play a larger role in Obamacare enrollment. Not only will these insurance professionals assist consumers in finding and enrolling in a health plan during the open enrollment periods, but they should also become ongoing resources throughout the year as policyholders seek more information about policy benefits and new legislative enactments.
The insurance industry is becoming a much more competitive market in which new technological developments are weeding out the less profitable agents and brokers, so in the future, expect to only find insurance professionals with a firm grasp of the latest financial tools like real-time customer service and analytics-driven aggregation. Only brokers with the latest expertise and the most robust tech services will remain in business, so consumers should benefit greatly from this increased competition.
Insurance brokerages should also benefit from their elevated role in helping consumers take advantage of the Affordable Care Act and other health care laws. More consumers will find them as a valuable resource that can guide them through the constantly changing business and legal environment in which the health insurance industry operates. Whether Obamacare continues to remain viable or not is an unanswered question, but insurance brokers will continue to offer outstanding service to consumers regardless of the outcome.