Cedar Rapids counselor sees no change in Affordable Care Act enrollment, despite federal cuts

Open enrollment in ACA ends Friday

Bill Poulson of Cedar Rapids works with Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Ashley Loutsch to enroll in health insurance on the marketplace at the Eastern Iowa Women’s Health Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, December 14, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Bill Poulson of Cedar Rapids works with Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Ashley Loutsch to enroll in health insurance on the marketplace at the Eastern Iowa Women’s Health Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, December 14, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Despite drastic changes affecting the federal online exchanges, at least one Cedar Rapids certified application counselor has seen about the same number of people signing up for health care insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

This fall, the Trump administration cut the open enrollment period in half, dropped funding for overall outreach programs and reduced support to the navigator program.

Navigators aid people attempting to sign up through the exchange on HealthCare.gov.

The deadline for open enrollment in general and to enroll for coverage in Iowa and the 38 other states where residents sign up for health insurance through the ACA exchange is Friday.

While enrollees are not necessarily making different choices this year, Ashley Loutsch, a certified application counselor at the Eastern Iowa Health Center, said they have asked a lot more questions and are anxious about their actual coverage.

“The uncertainty is what’s hard (for them),” she said. “They don’t know what’s going to happen next year, they hope it won’t get cut off in the middle of the year ... The uncertainty just makes it harder for them to decide.”

The Trump administration shortened the time individuals had to apply for 2018 coverage and slashed the ACA’s advertising budget by 90 percent, according to Kaiser Health News — a move some national experts said could result in less enrollees getting insurance.

But Loutsch said she has seen little change in enrollment numbers.

“We’re about the same as we were last year, even though it’s a shorter time frame,” Loutsch said. “So we’re busier, but it’s the same amount of people.”

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Loutsch has seen about 25 people since enrollment opened on Nov. 1, 12 of whom have signed up for insurance.

As certified application counselor, Loutsch’s position is different from a navigator’s — navigators were created under the ACA and are funded by the federal government. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced in August funding for navigators would be significantly reduced for the 2018 enrollment period.

While both help people sign up for insurance through the exchange or for Medicaid, navigators host educational events and do outreach for uninsured or underinsured populations.

As of the end of last week, about 4.6 million people nationwide selected insurance plans through the exchange, according to the CMS. The majority of these individuals — more than 3 million — are renewing their coverage.

Iowa has seen more than 28,000 people sign up for coverage by Dec. 9, according to the CMS.

Despite changes to the ACA, Iowans still are eligible for subsidies to help pay for their insurance, if they meet the financial requirements.

As in previous years, Loutsch said people who have visited her office at the Eastern Iowa Health Center are surprised when they find how affordable insurance can be for them, and “a lot of people actually have free options and they don’t realize that.”

“Just depending on their income and household size, they can get a high enough premium tax credit that they would have no premium with their insurance company,” Loutsch said.

Individuals can sign up or renew insurances plans through the ACA at healthcare.gov until Friday. Coverage begins Jan. 1, 2018.

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How to find assistance to apply for health care coverage

To apply for health care insurance through the Affordable Care Act before Friday’s deadline, individuals can go through an insurance agent, apply by phone at 800-318-2596, or sign up online through Healthcare.gov.

A navigator or a certified application counselor can be located to help navigate the online process in person through a tool on the website:

-- Visit localhelp.healthcare.gov

-- Enter your ZIP code

-- Find a nearby professional’s contact information

 

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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