Deadlines for health-insurance enrollment approaching fast

Deadlines for health-insurance enrollment approaching fast

URBANA — For anyone who's been delaying enrolling in a health insurance plan for next year, time is quickly running out.

Two deadlines are looming. For Medicare enrollees, Thursday is the last day to enroll in or change a Medicare Advantage or prescription-drug plan for next year.

One carrier serving Medicare enrollees in this area, Health Alliance Medical Plans, said it is extending its enrollment help by phone (888-382-9771) for Medicare Advantage plans until 8 p.m. Thursday.

For everyone else who doesn't get health insurance through an employer or a government program, such as Medicare and Medicaid, the deadline to enroll in a plan for next year through the government marketplace is coming up Dec. 15.

The enrollment period for 2018 coverage was shortened to six weeks this year.

As of Dec. 2, 126,720 people in Illinois had already selected a health plan through the federal healthcare.gov platform, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Enrollment in off-market health plans for next year will continue past Dec. 15, but those plans will end up costing more for people who would have been eligible for subsidies to help write down the cost of premiums. Those subsidies aren't available for off-market health plans.

Sinead Rice Madigan, a vice president at Health Alliance Medical Plans, encouraged everyone who still needs to enroll in health coverage to take care of that without further delay.

Unlike last year, Health Alliance hasn't set a cap on how many new enrollees it will accept for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2018, she said. For the last enrollment period, Health Alliance limited new enrollees to 25,000, and cut off enrollment after that limit was reached.

Sign-ups for this enrollment period have been steady week over week, Madigan said. Her company will have a better idea on its enrollment figures after customers signing up make their first premium payments, she said. Those first payments come due by Jan. 1, 2018.

Silver plans have been the most popular among the levels for next year, Madigan said.

"Those give the greatest help with paying for your cost-sharing," she said.

Prospective enrollees have been advised to shop carefully and look beyond premiums before signing up. Bronze plans, one level down from silver, come with more affordable premiums, but they generally require customers to foot their own medical bills until they meet deductibles.

For those who need help signing up, in-person enrollment counselors have been available locally by appointment through Champaign County Health Care Consumers and Frances Nelson Health Center.

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