By Lauren Wanko
Atlantic City resident Constantine Gusis is window shopping online for health insurance. The Obamacare open enrollment period begins Saturday.
“We don’t expect as many applying because so many who are eligible have already applied, but we still expect a substantial increase,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective Senior Policy Analyst Ray Castro.
At the end of the first open enrollment period last year, nationwide 8 million people signed up for insurance plans online on healthcare.gov, known as the marketplace. In New Jersey, more than 161,000 individuals selected a plan.
This year the number of insurance carriers increased from three to five.
“I think the insurers have realized this is a good deal for them. There is a whole new source for customers for insurers,” Castro said.
Last year, many of those customers complained about major technical issues with the marketplace website. Monmouth University’s Laura Jannone has worked in the health care industry for nearly 40 years.
“Seeing terms like HMO versus POS versus EPO, I had to look those things up so I think that can be confusing when people are on the webpage,” she said.
Castro says the number one concern is affordability.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that there are even subsidies available to bring those costs down, so in New Jersey almost half the people that obtained insurance are paying less than $100 a month,” said Castro.
Tax credits are available based on household income and number of dependents. Last year nearly 85 percent of the New Jerseyans who selected a plan got financial assistance. Gusis’ niece and nephew qualified. They’re each paying about $125 a month for their plans.
“It’s a nice savings for them. If it wasn’t for the credit they would have been paying a little over $300,” Gusis said.
When asked how much he has found that has helped his clients, Scott Hafetz said, “It’s helped a lot, significantly. It’s really helped lower wage earners.”
Hafetz and Associates insurance consultants educate clients on the many plan options and ultimately help them choose the right plan.
“Last year people that did it themselves, did it online basically by price only and buying price only may not be best for you,” Hafetz said.
So far in 2014, Hafetz and Associates enrolled more than 1,400 individuals in health insurance plans. But that number doesn’t necessarily mean a gain in clients. Hafetz says that’s because many small business in the area dropped their employee benefits.
“As a small business owner they are not required to offer health insurance today. Now they’re having their employees fend for themselves,” he said.
As for insurance premiums, Castro expects a lot of variation.
“Some are going up, some going down. That’s why it’s important to review what your options are,” he said.
Open enrollment begins Saturday and ends Feb. 15.