Shop smart for health care coverage

Illinois Farm Bureau has determined the topic of healthcare to be an important issue for members. Earlier this year, a working group analyzed potential options that could help manage rising medical costs. The group’s recommendations will be shared with delegates at IFB's Annual Meeting in December. In the meantime, IFB will be sharing information on some of these options.

Type “affordable care act,” or “Illinois health care insurance” into an internet browser. You’ll probably find at least four or five website links that pop up before you get to those run by the state ( or federal ( governments.

Some companies have paid browser hosts to have their links show up first. It’s important to know exactly what you’re clicking on in order to avoid scams and find legitimate options that might save you some money.

“It can pay to shop,” said Dara Entwistle, a Logan County farmer and independent insurance agent. “But there are a lot of scams out there, too.”

When Lee County farmer Jim Schielein found out his present insurance carrier plans to raise his monthly health insurance premium to nearly $3,000 per month for 2019, he decided to examine options.

“As far as functionality, the policy performed well,” said Schielein. “But it’s now priced more than my business can support.”

The Illinois Department of Insurance (IDOI), recently released its analysis of Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plans for 2019 and what it calls its “on-exchange health care rate.” It shows lowest cost “gold plans” decreased by 6 percent and lowest cost “silver plans” decreased 4 percent. Its lowest cost “bronze plans” increased 6 percent, but still proved less than the 20 percent rate increases reported for 2018.

“Illinois consumers will finally have some relief after facing years of on average double-digit increases in health insurance premium rates,” said IDOI Director Jennifer Hammer in a news release. “We are starting to see signs that the exchange is stabilizing, given this year’s rates, a new insurer entering the on-exchange market in 2019, and no insurers from last year exiting.”

Shopping through ACA internet-based exchanges begins Nov. 1. Enrollment needs to be completed by Dec. 15.

McLean County farmer Scott Hoeft works for his church and has been able to secure health care through off-farm employment. But he tried to help his son secure health care insurance through the ACA exchanges.

“It was horrible,” said Hoeft. “I don’t think we ever got him signed up correctly.”

In the past, those who didn’t have health care insurance and refused to sign up through government exchanges could be fined by the federal government by more than $2,000 per family or 2.5 percent of the annual household income, whichever is greater. Starting in 2019, the fee no longer applies.

The IDOI release said the agency plans to visit all 102 Illinois counties “… to discuss coverage and answer questions.”