Open enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is underway. One organization is continuing to help people sign up, despite federal funding cuts.
Westside Family Healthcare is the only organization in Delaware this year receiving federal funding for navigators to help individuals enroll in coverage through Delaware’s Health Insurance Marketplace.
Last year, there were two such organizations.
“Delaware remained kind of having its full funding which was $600,000, and then this year it was reduced to $100,000 for the whole state,” said Maggie Norris Bent, director of external affairs at Westside Family Healthcare.
Westside Marketplace Navigator Sara Cruz has been helping people enroll for three years.
She says Westside’s federal funding for enrollment assistance was cut by a third this year— but the health center is extending enrollment hours to compensate for the reduction in assisters statewide.
“We are extending our services, we have less people to help. But we’re available. We’re ready,” said Cruz. “We are amping up.”
Norris Bent notes the health center is absorbing the cost.
Cruz says in-person assistance can be helpful because plans can seem complicated.
“What are deductibles, what is out of pocket costs, what goes toward your out of pocket costs?” said Cruz.
Cruz says that individuals looking to enroll can access Westside marketplace navigators through appointments, walk-in hours or by phone. Westside’s southernmost location is in Dover, but Cruz says marketplace navigators can make appointments with residents of Sussex county to meet in public places like libraries.
Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker says beyond a reduction in funding for on-the-ground assistance, there are other technical barriers being added to enrollment this year.
“Including scheduled downtime and maintenance on Sundays, often when many people have time and flexibility to enroll. That’s very unfortunate,” said Walker. “There’s little federal marketing support. So you won’t see the billboards and the campaigns that you had early on.”
Walker suggests Delawareans sign up early to avoid a last-minute rush before the deadline, which is Dec. 15.
Individuals can choose from eight Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware plans for 2019.
The Delaware Department of Insurance approved this year an average rate increase of 3 percent for 2019, which officials say is the lowest increase since the marketplace began in 2014.
Starting 2019, there will also be no individual mandate— or federal tax penalty for those who can afford coverage but choose not to buy it.
This year marks the 6th open enrollment period in Delaware.