The Healthcare.gov individual marketplace website has gotten a subtle but important facelift. The smiling young lady who was previously featured on the site has been replaced by four circle icons representing the different ways someone can shop for and enroll in subsidized insurance coverage through the marketplace: by mail, online, by phone, or in person.
The site also features a one-page guide that isn’t new but is important if you haven’t seen it already. A lot of people have – it currently has 2,400 “likes” on Facebook. Here’s what it says:
HOW DO I APPLY FOR MARKETPLACE COVERAGE?
You can apply for health coverage in the Marketplace 4 ways: with a paper application, online, by phone, or in person with an assister.
Apply with a paper application
You can fill out a paper application and mail it in. You’ll find out whether you’re eligible for lower costs on private insurance, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Once you get your eligibility notice, you can either go online to compare, choose, and enroll in a plan or contact our call center. A customer service representative will help you.
If you or someone on your application are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, a representative will contact you to enroll.
Apply online in 4 steps
When you apply online, you’ll follow a 4-step process:
- Set up an account. Start by going to the Marketplace page. First you’ll provide some basic information. Then choose a user name, password, and security questions for added protection.
- Fill out the online application. You’ll provide information about you and your family, like income, household members, current health coverage information, and more. This will help the Marketplace find options that meet your needs. Important: If your household files more than one tax return, call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) before you start an application. This is a very important step. Please don’t skip it. Representatives can provide directions to make sure your application is processed correctly.
- Compare your options. You’ll be able to see all the options you qualify for, including private insurance plans and free and low-cost coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Marketplace will tell you if you qualify for lower costs on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs on private insurance. You’ll see details on costs and benefits to help you choose a plan that’s right for you.
- Enroll. After you choose a plan, you can enroll online and decide how you pay your premiums to your insurance company. You must pay your premium by the date the insurer provides before your coverage can begin. Coverage can begin as soon as January 1, 2014. If you or a member of your family qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, a representative will contact you to enroll.
Learn what you can do to get ready to enroll. If you run a small business, here’s what you can do to get ready to offer coverage for your employees in the SHOP Marketplace.
If you have any questions, there’s plenty of live and online help along the way.
Apply by phone or with an in-person assister
- To apply by phone, call 1-800-318-2596, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (TTY: 1-855-889-4325). A customer service representative will work with you to complete the application and enrollment process.
- You can also apply with the help of an assister who can sit with you and help you fill out a paper or online application. Read the next section for more details.
Find in-person help
In all states, there are people trained and certified to help you understand your health coverage options and enroll in a Marketplace plan. They’re known by different names, depending on who provides the service and where they’re located. All can provide the help you need with your application and choices:
- Application assisters
- Certified application counselors
- Government agencies, such as State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Offices
Insurance agents and brokers can also help you with your application and choices.
Visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov to find help in your area. You can search by city and state or zip code to see a list of local organizations with contact information, office hours, and types of help offered, such as non-English language support, Medicaid or CHIP, and Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).
Before you apply, preview plans and estimated savings
Before you fill out a Marketplace application, you can do 2 things to learn your options:
Some recognition for brokers
“Insurance agents and brokers can also help you with your application and choices.”
So HHS did give a shout out to brokers, but just barely – sort of like the Oscar winner who remembers someone he forgot to thank and yells out their name while the music’s playing and he’s being escorted off the stage. This is ironic since private market solutions like an HPA private exchange site provide a significantly better user experience than the current Healthcare.gov site does.
No doubt the emphasis on the different ways to enroll is because of all of the “glitches” with the online enrollment option. President Obama acknowledged these difficulties in an October 21st speech at the Rose Garden, saying there’s “no excuse for the problems” and encouraging people to “bypass the website and apply by phone or in person.” He pleaded with Americans not to give up:
“So don’t let problems with the website deter you from signing up or signing your family up or showing your friends how to sign up, because it is worth it. It will save you money.”
Just four days later, Jeffrey Zients, who President Barack Obama appointed to oversee the repairs to the healthcare.gov website, said that it should be running well by the end of November. This promise received considerable media attention and is the subject of a Kaiser Family Foundation article entitled Administration Announces Details Of Marketplace Website Fix.
A word of advice for HPA partners
For brokers who have a private exchange site through Health Partners America, our advice is to be patient – eventually the website will be fixed and it will be easier for agents to enroll people through the marketplace site or directly through the carriers and easier for the fulfillment center to help individuals complete the enrollment process. In the meantime, even with all of the difficulties, people are signing up for coverage, especially in states that are operating their own exchanges.
Brokers should use this time wisely. While the actual enrollment process is a little bumpy right now, the reason for applying for individual plans hasn’t changed, so agents should be out there talking with as many employers as they can – those who currently offer coverage as well as those who don’t. By getting the employers on board and having a plan of action, brokers can have a ton of business rolling in just over a month from now.