Health

Open enrollment under way, new Affordable Care Act options available for Iowans

(File photo) Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor’s office in New York.  (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
(File photo) Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor’s office in New York. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

The Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace opened this week, but Iowans have the option to seek coverage from other sources — a move state insurance officials say was a good one for thousands of Iowans.

Open enrollment, which will end Dec. 15, began on Thursday for Iowans purchasing or changing their individual health coverage through the federal marketplace and starting Jan. 1, 2019.

Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said Iowa should expect the final enrollment numbers to be similar to this past year’s.

This is the first enrollment period after federal officials removed the tax penalty for people who fail to purchase health insurance, a former requirement under the Affordable Care Act.

According to the Iowa Insurance Division, approximately 107,000 Iowans purchased health insurance on their own in 2018. Of that, 39,000 Iowans remain in the individual ACA-compliant market.

The state once again having two carriers offering individual plans is “a good development” for Iowans, Ommen told The Gazette during a phone interview.

Medica, the Minnesota-based insurer, will continue to offer plans for the coming year.

The company will be joined by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Des Moines insurer that announced it would be returning to the state’s insurance exchange and offering ACA-compliant plans for 2019.

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But Ommen also praised non-ACA compliant options that he said offered an affordable option for Iowans who do not qualify for subsidies on their health care coverage, including the Farm Bureau Health Plan, a new coverage plan that was created by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation for this coming year.

Ommen has said in the past the state’s individual insurance market is in a bad place, affecting thousands of people who are 400 percent above the federal poverty line with high-premium rates.

Ommen said that if individuals are not eligible for subsidies to help with those costs, the system does not work.

“It’s good to have options for those above 400 percent of the federal poverty level,” Ommen said. “It’s a relief for the many people who were priced out of the system.”

Of the 107,000 individuals who purchased individual health insurance in 2018, about 68,000 of them received coverage through a grandfathered or transitional policy.

These plans are not compliant with all ACA regulations, but were granted allowance by federal officials earlier this year to continue in states that chose to maintain them. Iowa was among those states.

Grandfathered plans predate the ACA passage in 2010 and are allowed to exist under a provision of the law. Transition plans were sold up until 2014, the first year of the ACA, and also have been allowed to remain.

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

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