Enrollment for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces has been open for nearly four weeks, and, so far, numbers are lagging what they were in previous years.
However, anecdotal evidence in Teton County seems to be bucking that trend.
“We have seen a marked increase this year” in use of navigator services, said Julia Heemstra, wellness director at St. John’s Medical Center. “Appointments are filling up far more quickly than before.”
Heemstra runs the hospital’s navigation services, in which volunteers and staff answer patient questions, help them understand how HealthCare.gov and state marketplaces work and give advice on tax credits. She said they don’t make recommendations on individual plans but instead ensure patients have all the information to choose the plan that best fits their budget and health needs.
But in the state at large, numbers are low, and open enrollment ends Dec. 15. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issues weekly reports during open enrollment, and as of Nov. 16, the end of the third week of open enrollment, 5,230 Wyomingites had signed up through the exchange. Last year 24,852 people in the state signed up, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
With just 21% of the total number of signups from last year — and the enrollment period halfway over — the number can seem dire. That number can be expected to rise significantly at the end of open enrollment because people who are satisfied with their plans will be reenrolled into their existing coverage or something similar if they do nothing, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield press release.
Heemstra encouraged people to do their research and utilize the hospital’s free navigation services because automatically enrolling may mean patients pay higher prices due to increased premiums.
“I’ve seen increases from $20 a month to close to $200,” she said. “It’s really important for people to take the time to review what they are being auto enrolled into.”
Changes in income or in a plan’s offerings can influence price, so patients who auto-enroll risk losing out on tax credits or being enrolled in a more expensive plan. Heemstra said the hospital navigators, who offer appointments weekdays as well as Tuesday evenings at Teton County Library, are booked through the first week of December.
Call the library front desk at 733-2164, ext. 1, to book a Tuesday appointment, and for appointments at the hospital call 739-7244 or 739-7500 for English speakers and 739-7554 for Spanish speakers.
Health care premiums and tax credits reset Jan. 1 for plans purchased on the marketplace.