Less than two weeks remain to enroll in Affordable Care Act health insurance for 2020. Current ACA plan holders could have an unpleasant surprise come January if they allow themselves to be “automatically re-enrolled” in their current ACA plan.

Why? 

Those currently insured through the ACA received a letter from their insurer months ago. These letters painted a rosier-than-reality outcome regarding the cost of their current plan if selected again for 2020.

The problem: Insurers didn’t have complete information on the 2020 plans approved by the Virginia’s Board of Insurance when those letters went out. The levels of financial assistance that lower monthly premiums are actually reduced for 2020.

Why is that?

It’s not the fault of the ACA. The fault lies in the plans approved by the VBOI, specifically the benchmark plan that sets the level of financial help. That benchmark plan is not comparable to last year’s benchmark. The 2020 benchmark restricts those selecting this plan to only one of the two major hospitals in our area and offers a much smaller number of “in network” doctors and specialists (e.g., eight ob/gyns versus 53 in the competing “full network” plan).

Less financial help translates into higher premiums.

My experience counseling at both the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and the Legal Aid Justice Center indicates that those currently insured through the ACA are facing difficult choices: either paying more for a 2020 policy with a comparable network of medical providers as 2019 or trading down to less expensive or less comprehensive policies for next year. When people trade down from an ACA silver plan to a bronze plan, they are taking on higher deductibles and thus more financial risk. 

At least those consumers who come in for these counseling appointments are making an informed choice. Those who don’t take advantage of free local help from experienced, certified and independent counselors will end up being automatically re-enrolled in a similar and likely more expensive plan than 2019.

That’s a January surprise you might want to avoid before the enrollment deadline of Dec. 15.  Help is just a phone call away.

Jack Hanrahan

Albemarle County

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