Guest column: Arizonans may qualify for health care financial help

Since the Health Insurance Marketplace unveiled its new 2017 insurance plans in late October, media outlets across the country have been reporting steep rate increases are likely. According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, rates will increase by an average of 25 percent across the U.S.

Although Marketplace insurance rates are going up in 2017, it is estimated that approximately nine out of 10 northern Arizonans will qualify for financial help in the form of tax credits, cushioning many consumers from such rate hikes.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) will be the only Marketplace insurance carrier available in 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties, including all of northern Arizona. The Arizona Department of Insurance approved BCBSAZ’s request to increase premium rates for the 2017 coverage year. Although rates will increase, those who qualify for tax credits may see that they qualify for larger tax credits. For some, this means there will be no change in their monthly premium cost. Federal officials estimate that, after receiving tax credits, roughly 75 percent of Marketplace consumers may be eligible to purchase a plan for less than $75 a month. Some may even qualify for a bronze plan with a $0 monthly premium.

UnitedHealthcare, Humana, Cigna, Health Choice and Phoenix Health Plan are all leaving the Marketplace in Arizona. According to the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, approximately 125,000 current Marketplace consumers in Arizona will receive cancellation notices from their current issuer. Issuers and the Marketplace (healthcare.gov) will notify these consumers that their plan is being discontinued and the option(s) available to them. Many of these consumers, if they do not take action to re-enroll, will be auto-enrolled in a new company’s plan after Dec. 15.

Marketplace customers living in northern Arizona will be auto-enrolled in a BCBSAZ plan. Consumers will be able to browse five plans offered by BCBSAZ and can choose from different levels of coverage (bronze, silver and gold) that offer different copays, deductibles and premiums. Plan changes can be made during open enrollment, which began Nov. 1 and ends Jan. 31, 2017.

As the Marketplace continues to change, some people who couldn’t afford health insurance before may now be able to. The best way to find out if Marketplace insurance is a good option is to meet with an enrollment specialist to gain information to make an informed decision. Many people may be very surprised by the savings they qualify for.

North Country HealthCare has specially trained certified application counselors on staff to assist consumers in reviewing their Marketplace options and renewing coverage for 2017. There is no charge for the service and appointments are available in both English and Spanish.

Certified application counselors can also assist with AHCCCS, KidsCare and SNAP applications. To schedule your free enrollment appointment, visit northcountryhealthcare.org.

By Byron Lewis, health benefits navigator, North Country HealthCare

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