PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
WASHINGTON (AP) Consumers are getting the word that taxpayersubsidized health plans are widely available for next year for no monthly premium or little cost, and marketing companies say they’re starting to see an impact on sign-ups.
“Free Obamacare Coverage in 2018,” says an online pitch from insurance broker eHealth, showing a young woman with a big smile. “See if you qualify.”
HealthSherpa, a private website that focuses on signing people up for Affordable Care Act coverage, said nearly 1 in 5 of its customers thus far will be paying no monthly premium. That’s a change from last year, when the share was about 1 in 7.
More consumers also are finding plans for under $25 a month.
Analysts say the odd phenomenon is a wild card that could boost enrollment in the program, although it’s too soon to tell. The ACA offers taxpayer-subsidized private insurance to low and middle-income people who don’t have coverage on the job. About 10 million people are enrolled.
It’s another twist in a year in which the Obama health law has managed to survive despite rising premiums, dwindling insurer participation and President Donald Trump’s predictions of a swift and sure demise.
What’s more, experts say wider availability of no-premium plans is the unintended consequence of Trump administration actions to undermine the ACA.
The president stopped reimbursing insurers for reduced copays and deductibles, available to people with modest incomes purchasing a “silver” ACA plan. Sure enough, that has boosted premiums for silver plans. But government subsidies also shot up, because they’re pegged to the cost of silver plans.
The bigger available subsidies mean that cheaper “bronze” plans can increasingly be had for no monthly premium, after consumers subtract their subsidy from the list price.
It’s like pushing down on one end of a see-saw, and the other end goes up.
In some cases, “gold” plans offering enhanced protection against the costs of illness are also available for free to people whose incomes qualify them for financial assistance.