Health insurance exchange ready for new round of sign-ups

Colorado’s health insurance exchange is celebrating its first birthday this month. But there’s not much time for cake and balloons, because the system is already gearing up for its second round of enrollments. Beginning Oct. 15, people can begin shopping for health insurance again on the exchange.

The system should be easier to use this time around, say officials at Larimer Health Connect, a project of the Health District of Northern Larimer County. There were some start-up glitches last year, but the online system has been simplified and streamlined. Also, more appointments are offered this year on weekends and evenings for in-person assistance.

Larimer Health Connect is a free service for individuals and small businesses. The staff provides impartial, personal assistance in finding health insurance through the exchange. For many people, significant cost reductions are available. In fact, state-wide about 60 percent of those who enrolled last year received financial assistance to help pay their premiums.

“Don’t assume you won’t qualify for financial assistance,” said Karen Spink, assistant director of the Health District. “Be sure to check.”

For details about income levels that qualify for financial assistance, go to www.larimerhealthconnect.org. Click on “Can I lower my healthcare costs?”

The state exchange is officially called the Connect for Health Colorado Marketplace. In its first year of sign-ups, the state enrolled 143,524 individuals in health plans. Another 2,470 people got coverage through plans offered to small businesses. It’s not yet known how many of those were previously uninsured.

In Larimer County, 17,658 individuals signed up for healthcare last year through the exchange. Of those, 9,431 qualified for the expanded Medicaid program, while 8,227 got plans through the individual marketplace.

“We were extremely pleased with the number of people who enrolled during the first enrollment period, and we expect to get more new enrollees this year,” Spink said. Officials estimate that about 34,000 people in the county are eligible for either Medicaid or other financial assistance, so there are still many folks out there who could benefit from the new program.

Colorado is one of 27 states that chose to expand Medicaid last year. Now, people can qualify for this program if they earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. While Medicaid has covered children’s dental care in the past, it now includes a benefit for adult dental care as well.
For those who enrolled through the exchange last year, it’s important to check your plan before Dec. 15 when it will automatically renew. The plan’s cost and benefits may have changed, Spink noted, and people do have the option to choose a different plan.

Help for small business
In addition to helping individuals, Larimer Health Connect has staff trained to assist small businesses with their insurance needs. Businesses that qualify for financial assistance, in the form of a tax credit, must have fewer than 25 employees. The average annual salary of employees must be less than $50,000.

For 2015, only those businesses that enroll in health insurance through the exchange will qualify for the credit, according to Matt Jenkins, a Larimer Health Connect guide for small businesses.

However, Jenkins explained, any small business, even if it doesn’t qualify for the tax credit, can sign up for insurance through the exchange. One advantage of doing so is that employers can offer different plans to their workers, even from different carriers. Connect for Health Colorado takes care of the added paperwork, and the employer receives just one premium bill.

Even if a business is unable to offer coverage for its employees, Larimer Health Connect staff can help the employees sign up for insurance through the exchange.

Besides Larimer Health Connect, several other local locations provide help with the sign-up process; see the info below for details.

Connect for Health Colorado:
Dates and deadlines

Oct. 15: You may begin previewing health insurance plans for 2015, at www.connectforhealthco.com. However, you won’t be able to see your exact costs until Nov. 15.
Nov. 15: Open enrollment for 2015 begins. Now, you will be able to compare exact costs of different plans. You may also sign up for a 2015 plan beginning on this date.
Dec. 15: Last day to enroll in a plan that begins Jan. 1, 2015.
Feb. 15, 2015: Open enrollment ends for 2015.
Year-round: If you qualify for the lowest-cost plans, Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+), you may enroll at any time. Small businesses may also enroll year-round.
Local, in-person assistance:
Insurance brokers: Certified brokers are listed at connectforhealthco.com
Larimer Health Connect: 970-472-0444; larimerhealthconnect.org.
Salud Family Health Center, Fort Collins: 970-494-4040
Northern Colorado AIDS Project: 970-484-4469

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