Health insurance enrollment underway for 2016 plans | SteamboatToday.com

Health insurance enrollment underway for 2016 plans

Lauren Blair

Erin Gleason, former community and small business health insurance coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, talks a resident through the process of signing up for insurance earlier this year. Open enrollment for health insurance runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, 2016.

— The third annual open enrollment period for health coverage began earlier this month, and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is ramping up to help Northwest Coloradans get covered.

Individuals looking to find a new health insurance plan have until Jan. 31 to enroll. The VNA is encouraging everyone to re-evaluate their current plans, however, rather than simply letting it roll over into the new year.

"We're really encouraging people to re-shop the plan and make sure they're getting the best plan for them and their family,” said VNA Director of Business Development Janie Dunckley. "Obviously, there are rate changes and premium changes," and more competitive rates might be available through a different plan.

Customers of Colorado HealthOP, a health insurance co-op that was decertified in October, will have to seek new coverage for next year, however, the plan wasn't as popular among Northwest Coloradans as some others, according to Dunckley.

One change that could have a big impact on those who have avoided getting health coverage, Dunckley said, is that the penalty for not having coverage increases substantially this year.

Individuals without coverage in 2016 will pay the higher of 2.5 percent of their yearly household income or a fine of $695 per person, according to healthcare.gov. The same applies to families, who would pay an additional fee of $347.50 per child younger than 18, with a maximum penalty per family of $2,085 by that method.

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"It could be quite a chunk of change for a family to go uninsured whereas in the past, it was a little more nominal and people could justify not having coverage," Dunckley said. "Now it's going to make a dent. That will be a nasty surprise come tax time."

In 2015, the fee for not having coverage is the higher of 2 percent of yearly household income or $325 per person. Families will owe $162.50 per child younger than 18, with a maximum family penalty of $975. The fee is owed with federal income taxes.

To help ease consumers through the process of finding the right plan and taking advantage of tax subsidies available to them, the VNA is once again offering the services of health coverage guides. The guides will be available throughout the enrollment period for one-on-one consultations as well as drop-in sessions in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

"Our big strategy this year is to make sure consumers get connected with a person who can help them with the process since it's a cumbersome process sometimes," Dunckley said.

Tax subsidies continue to be available through Connect for Health Colorado, the state's health insurance marketplace, for individuals and families in certain income tax brackets.

With premium rates increasing an average of 9.8 percent next year for individuals and families, according to a news release from Connect for Health, subsidies are also increasing for those who qualify.

Those who want coverage starting Jan. 1 must be enrolled by Dec. 15. To enroll, visit connectforhealthco.com or call the VNA at 970-871-7324 to set up an appointment with a health coverage guide. A list of local brokers available to help with enrollment is available on the Connect for Health Colorado website.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.

Getting help:

Individuals who need health insurance or need to renew their plans must do so by Jan. 31, 2016. Please be aware of the following important information:

· There are new plans and prices every year. Financial help is available to lower monthly costs.

· Free in-person assistance is available to help you find the right plan.

· If you’re already enrolled, you need to renew your plan to retain coverage. Be sure to review your options.

· There are tax fines for not having health insurance.

For assistance in enrolling in health insurance, contact a Health Coverage Guide at the Northwest Colorado VNA at 970-871-7330 or Yampa Valley Medical Center at 970-879-1322. Drop in open enrollment assistance also is available 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Jan. 26, 2016 at Yampa Valley Medical Center, 1024 Central Park Drive.