Health

Kentuckians have one more week to sign up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov.

As of Dec. 6, about 36,000 people in the state had signed up, that’s about 44 percent of the people enrolled for 2017.  This year’s enrollment period is only half as long as the previous year.

While most people have received letters that they will be automatically re-enrolled, many Kentuckians will have a choice of a different network of doctors and different benefits. That’s because in every county, there will only be one available option.

In some cases, the changes are good news.

Ray Weaver, who owns a music store in Louisville, said he paid $800 a month for his Anthem plan in 2017. When he received a letter in the mail in October that he’d be automatically enrolled in a new CareSource plan, he thought the price would jump up – that’s what’s happened every year. But Weaver said he was pleasantly surprised when his insurance broker ran the numbers for his plan starting in 2018.

“For one year, our premium just dropped incredibly,” said Weaver. “It went from $800 to $300 [a month] for a similar plan. And it’s not because our finances have changed.”

Every year, insurance plans and their benefits offered on Healthcare.gov change, as do prices. But this year was a little different.

In October, President Donald Trump announced the government would no longer pay insurers to lower copays or deductibles for people with certain incomes. In response, insurers increased monthly premiums. But because those premiums went up, so did the subsidies that help people purchase insurance.

In some cases, the costs evened out. Ashley Shoemaker, an application assister at Family Health Centers in Portland, said, however, that the letters didn’t provide to people all of the information.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in confused and scared because of the letters that they see that their premiums are going up, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that payment assistance goes up as well,” Shoemaker said.

Around 80 percent of Kentuckians receive financial help to pay for health care premiums, according to Shoemaker. Individuals who make $48,240 a year or more do not qualify for a subsidy.

The Trump administration slashed funding for nonprofit “navigators” like Shoemaker this year. Instead, officials are directing consumers more toward brokers. That’s resulted in more phone calls for people like Joel Thompson, an insurance broker in eastern Kentucky.

“Under the previous administration they were so focused on the nonprofits with the navigators that they kind of neglected to see us as a resource,” Thompson said.

Normally this would mean good business for Thompson, but CareSource, which is the only insurer in half of Kentucky’s counties, doesn’t pay brokers. Anthem, on the other hand, pays around $100 per enrollee.

Even though he’s not being paid for most of the help he provides, Thompson said he sees it as a way to not only help people, but also build up a list of potential clients. Thompson also sells life, vision and dental insurance. Those companies do reimburse brokers.

“Eventually, even if I don’t get any compensation for enrollment, there are other things down the road that maybe I could help with that I’d be paid for,” he said.

Open enrollment on Healthcare.gov ends on December 15.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.