Delaware will launch the second open enrollment period of its Health Insurance Marketplace on Saturday, ready to build on the success of season one in which 14,400 Delawareans signed up for private health coverage. U.S. Sen. Tom Carper joined Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf, Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart and others in marking the launch during a kickoff event Friday at Delaware Technical Community College’s Stanton Campus.
Open enrollment for health coverage in 2015 runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15 on HealthCare.gov. Individuals must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage to be effective Jan. 1. Policies for all current enrollees expire on Dec. 31.
Key features of the Health Insurance Marketplace in Delaware for 2015 include:
• More choice: People who are re-enrolling or enrolling for the first time will have more plans to choose from: 23 plans vs. 19 in 2014. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna Health, and Aetna Life Insurance administer the plans.
• A streamlined HealthCare.gov that makes it easier to shop for and enroll in coverage, including an application for newcomers that involves only 16 screens, down from last year’s 76 screens. Visitors can also shop for and compare plans without creating an account.
• Health benefits that include coverage of pre-existing conditions, outpatient care, emergency services, hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental health and substance-use disorder services, lab services, pediatric services and more.
• A higher penalty for going uninsured. Those who are not exempt and do not buy insurance for 2015 will pay $325 per adult (plus $162.50 for each child not covered) or 2 percent of their household income, whichever is higher.
• A broader and more accessible network of in-person assistance, including more than 70 locations statewide that are staffed by certified marketplace guides who are trained to help consumers through the application and enrollment process.
• Federal financial assistance that in 2014 helped to lower the cost of coverage for eight out of 10 Delawareans.
• The debut of the online SHOP Marketplace (Small Business Health Options) for businesses with 50 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees may qualify for a Small Business Health Care Tax Credit worth up to 50 percent of their premium costs.
• A redesigned ChooseHealthDE.com website that includes an interactive tool for consumers to find in-person assistance from marketplace guides, a penalty calculator that will give a rough estimate of what you will pay if you do not have health insurance in 2015, and a link to certified agents and brokers.
All plans purchased through the marketplace anytime in 2014 expire Dec. 31. If you bought a health insurance plan this year you can renew your current plan or enroll in a different plan for 2015.
While insurance companies will automatically renew many consumers’ coverage, everyone who bought a marketplace plan should go to HealthCare.gov to update their household income and other personal information, review their current coverage, and check out the new plans. “We strongly encourage consumers to make sure their current plan still meets their needs and to see if they might be eligible for lower costs,” DHSS Secretary Landgraf said.
Also attending Friday’s kickoff event were two Delawareans who talked about how their lives have improved since enrolling in coverage through the marketplace.
“Having health coverage has made a big difference in my life,” said Felipe Hernandez, 25, a machine operator from Wilmington. “I’ve gone to the doctor for exams, blood work, and medications to prevent future illness. My health has improved a lot.” Hernandez, who pays a monthly premium of about $73, said he is now less stressed and more hopeful about the future for him, his wife, Irene, and their 20-month-old daughter. He hopes to buy a house and says having health insurance will help him avoid big hospital bills and keep him out of debt. “I’m not going to go broke because I get sick.”
Stephanie Brown, 32, of Smyrna, is relieved that with her new marketplace coverage, she can now get the daily medications her 6-year-old son, Connor, needs to control his ADHD and asthma. She was working as a hospital unit clerk when her hours were reduced to part-time and she lost her prescription coverage. “I was paying $160 a month for my medical plus out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions. Now I don’t have to scramble and get coupons. This program has been a godsend for me, and Connor is a healthy, active 6-year-old boy because of it.”
Hernandez’s and Brown’s stories show the importance of connecting people to coverage and to care, Landgraf said. “Making that connection is how we build a healthier Delaware. Access to care is the first step in enabling consumers to take control of their health needs. We look forward to many more Delawareans gaining that access during the coming open enrollment period and beyond.”
Sen. Carper enrolled in a marketplace plan last year and will re-enroll this year. “As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked with my colleagues in both parties to develop and pass a comprehensive health care reform law that made the health insurance marketplace possible,” he said. “The marketplace allows individuals and small businesses in Delaware to gain purchasing power similar to that of large companies, and be able to compare, shop for, and choose insurance plans that best meet both their health and financial needs. Moving toward a health insurance system that harnesses the power of market forces and competition will help to drive down health insurance costs for everyone and improve access to health care.”
“I encourage Delawareans to take advantage of this chance to get quality healthcare coverage at rates they can afford,” said U.S. Rep. John Carney, who was unable to attend the kickoff. “The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. In fact, I’m working with my colleagues in Congress to make coverage under the law more affordable and drive down health care costs overall. In the meantime, Delaware’s marketplace offers a host of solid options that 14,000 of our friends and neighbors have already started benefiting from.”
While consumers in some states will face double-digit premium increases in 2015, Commissioner Stewart reported better news for Delawareans. “I negotiated with Highmark/Blue Cross Blue Shield to keep their rate increases at 3.99 percent, down from a requested 5 percent. And Aetna actually submitted a request which reflected a small reduction in rates. So sticker shock should be kept to a minimum for Delawareans who buy marketplace plans in 2015.”
In addition to the Health Insurance Marketplace, some residents might be eligible for coverage though Delaware’s expanded Medicaid program, which continues year-round. More than 9,000 individuals have received coverage under the Medicaid expansion in the past year.
For more information go to www.ChooseHealthDE.com or call 1 (800) 318-2596, TTY: 1 (855) 889-4325. You can enroll in marketplace coverage directly at www.HealthCare.gov or through an agent or broker.