Exchange Health Care Premiums Increase Five Percent in New Jersey

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act begins Sunday. Folks can sign up with the same five insurers as last year. Health and Human Services regional director Jackie Cornell-Bechelli joins Michael Hill with a preview of what’s new this year.

She says they’ve worked to continue to improve the website and make it more user friendly. “If you’re a returning customer you’ll go in and you’ll see a lot of your old information is populated in the system, making it faster and quicker to get re-enrolled,” she said. “We have worked very hard to both remove the amount of screens that people are using and to make it more intuitive for people shopping on the web.”

One of those features is called window shopping and allows people to go on the website and look at what’s available to them without signing up or giving any personal information. “We wanted to mimic the way that you would shop for anything online. Be able to browse and look and see what’s available without making any kind of commitment, or putting any personal information into the site,” Cornell-Bechelli said.

Premiums in New Jersey increased by five percent, that’s still less than the national average of seven percent, she said. “It’s an increase, but it’s still much less than projections would have had without the Affordable Care Act being in place,” she said.

Helping to keep prices down is competition. “We put out a report this week looking at numbers from 2014 to 2015 and it showed that New Jersey consumers saved close to $700 dollars this year by shopping and looking for new plans,” she said. “You’ll remember last year we almost doubled the options available to us, and that competition not only brought costs down, but allowed consumers to look and ultimately change plans for either more affordable or had better services that they wanted.”

The penalty for not purchasing health insurance equates to $695, or two percent of a person’s income, if they’re not covered by insurance in some way, whether that’s through your employer, through the marketplace.

Cornell-Bechelli explains the levels of coverage in insurance plans. “We have what we call medal plans; so what we call silver, gold and bronze. We have seen that people have overwhelmingly chosen the silver plans, which are offering the essential health benefits; things like vaccines, flu shots, basic care items like hospitalization and prescriptions. So, it’s pretty comprehensive, but there are levels to what people can purchase,” she said. “We have seen that most people are picking the silver plans here in New Jersey and across the country. But people have a wide variety of plans to look at and we encourage them to go online, call the 1-800 number or sit down with an in-person assistant to get more details about what might work for them and their family.”

As far as the number of people they anticipate to sign up for health insurance, she says its not a hard number they look for. “It’s how do we get the uninsured covered by some means, so we’re really looking to drive people into those programs,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is look at the uninsured population and just try to make sure that they’re insuring in either the marketplace plan, or because of medicaid expansion here in New Jersey, the population of folks that on any given year, in any given week, might fall into a bucket where they’re eligible for medicaid, or fall into a bucket where they’re eligible for subsidies. So for us it’s not a hard number, ACA vs. medicaid.”

She says the health department is working with small businesses to roll out and make business owners aware of the SHOP, or Small business Health Options Program. “So if there are 100 employees, they’re looking at what’s available to them here in New Jersey to get those covered,” she said.