Nov. 3--For the second consecutive year, many premiums for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's open-enrollment period will remain stable or drop slightly in 2020 compared with the current year, Illinois Department of Insurance officials say.
"Generally, it's good news for consumers," insurance department director Robert Muriel said last week.
Open enrollment on HealthCare.gov began Friday and concludes Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2020.
An analysis by the insurance department shows that changes among unsubsidized premium rates for lower-priced "bronze" plans will range from a 5% increase to a drop of 5% between 2019 and 2020. Similar changes also are expected in the Springfield, Peoria and Rockford areas, the analysis indicated.
Meanwhile, premiums for lower-priced "silver" plans in the Springfield and Peoria areas will drop by 5% to 10% or rise up to 5%. Premiums for those plans in the Rockford area will range from a 10% drop to a 10% increase compared with 2019 plans, according to the analysis.
Lower-priced "gold plans" are expected to drop by up to 5% or rise as much as 10% in parts of the Springfield and Peoria areas and increase by as much as 5% in the Rockford area compared with 2019.
Officials at the state insurance department and the Chicago-based Shriver Center on Poverty Law said a stabilizing insurance market, both nationwide and in Illinois, appears to be influencing the rates.
This is the seventh open-enrollment period for the 2010 federal health care law -- the signature achievement of former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
It appears that insurance companies are doing a better job of figuring out what it costs to insure people on statewide health-insurance exchanges and adjusting their rates accordingly, according to Stephani Becker, Shriver's associate director of health care justice.
Becker said previous years of double-digit rate increases may have reflected insurance companies worried about threats to repeal the ACA by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Those threats remain -- including a federal court challenge of the ACA -- but don't have the same immediacy, Becker said.
Most people enrolling in coverage on the state-based exchanges, including those in Illinois, don't pay the full premium because federal subsidies are available to offset premium costs for enrollees whose incomes are up to 400% of the federal poverty level, or up to about $50,000 in income annually for an individual. In Illinois, 83.7% of enrollees qualified for assistance to reduce premiums and other out-of-pocket costs in 2019, according to federal statistics.
Additional breaks in cost-sharing are available to people at 250% or less of FPL, or about $31,200 in income annually.
For people qualifying for subsidies, out-of-pocket costs for premiums on the state exchanges should remain "about the same" in 2020, Becker said.
Maximum out-of-pocket costs for people in the lowest income groups qualifying for ACA-subsidized coverage will rise from $2,600 in 2019 to $2,700.
But people who don't qualify for subsidies will face full premiums and out-of-pocket maximums as high as $8,150, Becker said.
Enrollment by Illinoisans in ACA insurance plans has dropped 19.5% -- from a high of 388,179 in 2016 to 312,280 in 2019.
Because of action by Trump and Congress, Americans no longer face federal tax penalties for going without coverage. Analysts have said the lack of penalties is a factor in the enrollment slide.
Most of Illinois' drop in enrollment appears to be associated with people who don't qualify for subsidies, according to Eric Anderson, the Illinois insurance department's chief health actuary.
Becker said an additional factor in the enrollment drop is the federal government's reduction in funding for outreach and in-person counseling on ACA plan selection at the state level.
Douglas O'Brien, Chicago-based regional director of the Trump-controlled U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said a reduction in federal funding for ACA-related marketing in communities isn't to blame.
"I find it hard to believe that there are a lot of people who have missed the discussion of the Affordable Care Act," O'Brien said.
In addition to the high premium costs faced by people who earn too much to qualify for subsidies, the ACA enrollment drop in Illinois and nationwide has been fueled by ongoing improvements in the economy that have led to employment of more people in jobs that offer health insurance, O'Brien said.
The Illinois Department of Insurance's Get Covered Illinois public-education campaign will spend about $300,000 this year on television, radio and digital display advertising to publicize the open-enrollment period, Insurance spokeswoman Caron Brookens said.
That money comes from federal funds not specifically designated for ACA outreach, she said.
Get Covered Illinois offers an online locator, bit.ly/getcoveredcounseling, where people can find local options for free, in-person help with selecting an ACA plan.
In Springfield, the Center for Family Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, 520 N. Fourth St., offers in-person assistance by appointment and on a walk-in basis. Appointments can be made by calling 545-8000 and asking for the family medicine financial counselor.
Central Counties Health Centers at 2239 E. Cook St. in Springfield offers walk-in counseling, but appointments are preferred and can be made by calling 788-2300.
Private insurance enrollment through Affordable Care Act in 2019
Source: U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
(c)2019 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.
Visit The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill. at www.sj-r.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.