Arizonans who don't qualify for Medicaid or get health insurance through their employer have just six weeks to shop on the healthcare.gov website for policies that take effect on Jan. 1.
The enrollment period that started Wednesday is six weeks shorter than last year's under new Trump Administration rules and ends on Dec. 15. Groups that help people enroll are worried the shortened period and cuts to public outreach and sign-up assistance will lead to fewer people with insurance next year. Plans can be reviewed on the www.healthcare.gov website and people needing assistance can go to www.coveraz.org or call 1-800-377-3536.
University of Arizona health care policy expert Dr. Dan Derksen said in a recent interview that he expects Arizona enrollment to drop by 15 to 20 percent next year from the current 140,000 people. Cuts to advertising efforts and confusion brought about by failed Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and President Donald Trump's mid-October decision to stop cost-sharing reduction payments for to insurers are mainly to blame.
Insurers are required to help lower-income clients with deductibles and co-pays under the Affordable Care Act, and the law also says the government shall reimburse insurers for those costs. But there is disagreement over whether a separate appropriation is required, and Trump came down on the side of those who believe one is required.
"I think there will be a lot of confusion about whether or not this is still being offered, when I can still get the advance premium tax credit and the other things that have been done to kind of blow up the train track before us."
Just like this year, only two insurance companies are offering policies in 2018. Centene Corp's Ambetter by Health Net plans are available in Maricopa and Pima counties and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is selling in the other 13 counties.
Health Net rates are going up just 2 percent, while Blue Cross is lowering its rates by an average 1 percent. More than 85 percent of 140,000 people signed up in the state get tax credits to help pay their premiums, and many qualify for plans that cost less than $100 a month.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most people are required to prove they have health insurance or pay a fine. The Internal Revenue Service still appears to be enforcing that requirement, issuing a policy last month that it will reject 2017 returns that omit proof of insurance or do not include a fine.
In 2015, 153,000 Arizona residents paid a tax penalty for not having coverage.
Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday rejected the prospect of the state stepping in to help fill the gap left by cuts to federal enrollment outreach efforts.
"No," the Republican governor said. "The answer here is to continue, with the (congressional) delegation, to advocate for real reform for health care. This is something that we've been talking about in this country since 2009."