The Health Insurance Marketplace’s open enrollment officially ends Dec. 15, which is the last date to enroll for coverage to begin on Jan. 1, 2018. Arizona’s AHCCCS program and KidsCare (Children’s Health Insurance Program) enrollment is open for enrollment year-round. Current federal regulations say those who do not have insurance for 2018 will have to pay a minimum penalty of $695 per uninsured adult and $347.50 per uninsured child.

According to Allen Gjersvig, Director of Navigator and Enrollment Services with the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, many Arizonans can purchase a Marketplace plan for less than the $695 penalty fee for not having coverage. And information from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report shows that across the U.S., more than half of the 10.7 million of those who are uninsured and eligible to purchase a Marketplace plan could pay less in premiums in 2018 than they would owe the IRS for going without coverage.

“Many young adults who earn a little too much to qualify for AHCCCS may be eligible for a ‘Free Bronze’ plan because their Healthcare.gov tax credits would cover 100 percent of their monthly premium payments,” Gjersvig said. “After reviewing options for people of different ages and incomes, we now realize many people could buy a plan for less than the $695 tax penalty. Most people don’t realize that.”

For example, a single 49-year-old Arizonan earning between $18,090 and $36,180 would likely qualify for a Free Bronze plan. Or, as their salary approached the $36,000 level, they may have to pay less than $50 for the year, or $4.03 a month for coverage.

The key point for all consumers is simple: You don’t know what you will pay until you try. Consumers can receive a cost estimate by visiting HealthCare.gov and look for the "window shopping" tab. After entering their zip code, age and income, users will see insurance options and estimated costs.

“It makes no sense to pay a $695 penalty when you can get a plan for free or less than the penalty and receive free preventive care, well checkups and contraceptives,” Gjersvig said. “Imagine you are involved in a serious accident and your total out-of-pocket responsibility is about $7,000. How would you feel if you got stuck with a $50,000 medical bill plus a hefty fine for not having insurance when you could have gotten covered for less than the cost of the fine?”

Options for Coconino County

Just like 2017, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) is the only issuer offering plans in Coconino County for 2018. Consumers can choose between three plans offered by BCBSAZ; there are two bronze plans and one gold plan available. Last year, consumers had five BCBSAZ plans to choose from, with varying levels of coverage.

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Those who are already enrolled in a Marketplace plan can select a 2018 plan during open enrollment. Most Marketplace consumers will automatically be auto-enrolled in a plan if they do not take action before the deadline and choose the plan that best suits their needs. Changes can be made until open enrollment closes on Dec. 15.

Free enrollment assistance available

Not sure where to turn and how to navigate through the Marketplace? Perhaps North Country HealthCare can help. North Country HealthCare has certified application counselors on staff to assist consumers in reviewing their Marketplace options and renewing coverage for 2018. Enrollment appointments are free and available in both English and Spanish.

North Country HealthCare is located in 14 communities throughout Northern Arizona. Certified application counselors can also assist with AHCCCS, KidsCare and SNAP applications. To schedule your free enrollment appointment, visit NorthCountryHealthCare.org.

Is there a health topic you would like to know more about? Email Starla S. Collins, health writer and life coach, at StarlaSCollins@gmail.com.

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