REGION – There are five weeks until the start of Open Enrollment for Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health insurance marketplace. Open Enrollment is the annual period when new applicants can use the marketplace to sign up for health and dental plans for the coming year. It is also the time that existing members have the option to change plans – an option that many more members than usual will want to consider.
In tribute to the five weeks to go, here are five things that are new this year as well as five things that are the same as last year but still important to remember!
Much more financial help – Subsidized members will receive over $1,200 more in premium subsidies in 2019 than they received in 2018. This is because the premiums for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care on-exchange silver plans are increasing significantly. Premiums for silver plans drive federal subsidies – so when the premiums for silver plans increase, subsidies also increase. Premium subsidies can be used on any metal level plan, bronze through platinum.
Lower cost bronze, gold, and platinum plans – Non-silver premiums are not increasing as much, so subsidized members will find that these plans cost much less than they did in 2018. Vermonters who don’t have insurance because they thought it was unaffordable in past years are strongly encouraged to check again. With the increased subsidies, many will find that they qualify for at least one zero premium plan.
More plans in the marketplace – Most Vermonters will find 26 options for qualified health plans – including two new silver plans. Vermonters who are under 30 years old still have the option of choosing a catastrophic plan from either carrier in addition to the 26 other options. Subsidies cannot be applied to catastrophic plans, however; so subsidized members will often find that they can buy richer plans for less.
Lower cost silver plans outside the marketplace – Unsubsidized members (those with incomes too high to qualify for subsidies) are not protected from silver premium increases, unless they change plans or leave the marketplace. Their best options will be to change to a non-silver plan or to call an insurance carrier and enroll directly in a new lower cost silver plan, known as “reflective silver.” Reflective silver plans cannot be sold through VHC, only direct from a carrier.
Remembering that not all silver plans are created equal – In past years, most Vermonters chose silver plans. That will likely change in 2019 as gold plans usually offer lower out-of-pocket costs and now have a similar (and often lower) monthly premium. However, Vermonters with qualifying incomes can enroll in an Enhanced Silver 87 or 94 plan that has lower out-of-pocket costs than gold plans. For these Vermonters, a silver plan is likely to still be the best value. The Plan Comparison Tool is the quickest way for Vermonters to see if they might qualify for Enhanced Silver 87 or 94. Current members will also receive an eligibility notice in November.
What’s the same?
Same schedule – Open Enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, just like last year. Vermonters who sign up or request a new plan will have a start date of Jan. 1. Those who miss the deadline could have to wait until January 2020 to start health coverage.
Same channels – Vermonters can enroll or change plans online, by phone, or with one of 200 in-person assisters located across the state.
Financial help – Most applicants qualify for subsidies that lower their monthly premium and/or out-of-pocket costs. Income limits depend on household size, ranging from nearly $50,000 for an individual to $100,000 for a family of four.
Direct enrollment – Vermonters who don’t qualify for subsidies can call BCBSVT or MVP to enroll directly and establish a single point of contact. As noted above, this option is particularly important for unsubsidized members who want to stay in a silver plan.
Plan Comparison Tool – Clicking on “Decision Tools” at www.VermontHealthConnect.gov is the best way to estimate subsidies and compare expected total costs based on someone’s age, income, and health status.
In short, the tools and timelines are the same as last year, but the potential savings and the importance of taking action is much greater. The options can seem confusing, but the Plan Comparison Tool can make it easier. Vermonters who take a few minutes to evaluate their plan options can generally expect to pay hundreds of dollars less in 2019 than those who automatically renew into the 2019 version of their 2018 plan. Mark your calendar for Oct. 16, when the 2019 Plan Comparison Tool launches, and check it out at www.VermontHealthConnect.gov.