Clock ticking to examine federal health care exchange options

Illinois Department of Insurance officials traveling the state to answer questions and provide guidance.

Jennifer Hammer serves as director of the Illinois Department of Insurance. “What we’re responsible for is plan management as well as consumer education and protection,” said Hammer during a recent edition of “RFD Today.” (Photo by Mike Orso)

Illinois farmers and other residents have about a month left to examine health insurance options for 2019 available through the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Officials with the Illinois Department of Insurance (IDOI) plan to visit all 102 Illinois counties prior to next month’s deadline to answer questions and provide guidance. They also can provide individual help, either in-person or by a toll-free hotline at 1-866-311-1119.

“As we near the end of open enrollment, which is Dec. 15, wait times will get a little bit longer because people will wait until the last moment,” said Jennifer Hammer, IDOI director. “Don’t wait until the last minute. The federal government does decide if you enroll after December 15 ... whether to grant that extension.”

Residents of some Illinois counties have up to 30 plan choices for health insurance in 2019 under the ACA, while residents in other counties have five or fewer. (Graphic courtesy of Illinois Department of Insurance)

IDOI analyzed plans available through the federal online exchange and fee rates for the new year. For the first time since 2015, It found most ACA health insurance plan rates have stabilized.

“This is the first year we are seeing a decrease,” said Hammer on a recent edition of the “RFD Today” talk show on the statewide RFD Radio Network®. “We worked tirelessly with the industry to get more affordable rates for those purchasing health insurance on the exchange.”

Six insurance carriers provide health insurance to Illinoisans as part of the ACA exchange. But, in some cases, farmers and others in some Illinois counties won’t have six carrier choices.

“Most counties have 1, 2, 3 carriers and then different products with different richness,” said Hammer. “That would mean that you would either pay more when you go to the doctor or you pay more per month and then pay less when you go to the doctor.”

The IDOI director attributes ACA rate stabilization to a better understanding on the part of participating insurance companies about those enrolling in plans through the exchange.

“That still doesn’t mean that the increases don’t make it unaffordable for individuals not receiving subsidies,” said Hammer. “So, as they (federal government) provided more choice you are hearing a lot about short-term limited duration plans, association health plans, direct primary care, concierge medical practices.”

As these and other health care insurance options might become available, Hammer encourages farmers and other Illinoisans to get covered but continue to shop and examine options.

“What you don’t want to do is bypass open enrollment to get your individual plan,” she said.

Get Covered Illinois (GCI) serves as the official marketplace, or “exchange,” for health insurance available to Illinoisans under the ACA. Illinois farmers and other individuals and small businesses can examine options and purchase health insurance on the GCI website. The deadline to enroll is Dec. 15.