Here's to Thanksgiving -- a time to count our blessings and hold our families close. As we celebrate the family traditions of this great season, I suggest adding one more tradition to the mix: make sure family and friends know the best chance to buy health insurance for the year ahead ends on Dec. 15th.
This date is important because it marks the end of the open enrollment period for the health insurance exchange -- the place people get high quality coverage regardless of their health conditions -- with meaningful premium subsidies for those making modest wages. It all begins by getting on the Healthcare.Gov website and, in the privacy of your own home, doing some online shopping. For example, a friend told me when he punched in his 2019 income, estimated to be $25,000, he found a policy priced at $27 dollars a month! This sounds impossible -- but because he qualified for a monthly premium subsidy -- the price became affordable, even on his tight budget. He is also thinking about an option with a smaller deductible at the higher premium cost of $75 per month.
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There are plenty of options allowing individuals to weigh their personal considerations in arriving at the right combination of cost and coverage. Virtually every option would ensure access to health care and protection from bankruptcy if a significant medical expense was encountered. Health insurance exchanges were created to make sure people with health conditions or modest budgets could get health insurance -- no matter what. And that is what makes the December 15th deadline to sign up so important.
Last year almost 25,000 North Dakotans signed up for the insurance exchange. It is easy to do -- just pull up the Healthcare.Gov website. I am happy to report that this year even more people will be able to find affordable health insurance due to an innovative North Dakota law approved last legislative session which reduces premiums for a number of people who have not qualified for subsidies in the past.
I'm not saying all is well with the availability of affordable health insurance for all, far from it. However, North Dakotans looking for coverage on the insurance exchange before Dec. 15th will find options which did not exist when I was Insurance Commissioner -- before premium subsidies and the right to get a policy regardless of preexisting medical conditions were established in federal law. For many this will make the critical difference between being able to obtain health insurance vs. not having any at all.
So savor the Thanksgiving turkey. Cheer for your favorite football teams. But don't forget to remind family and friends who may not have health insurance that time is running out. This year's opportunity to lock in subsidized coverage with no medical underwriting goes away Dec. 15th.
Earl Pomeroy is a health care lobbyist for Alston & Bird law firm in Washington, D.C., a former U.S. representative for North Dakota and a former North Dakota insurance commissioner.