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It's not too late to save money on Obamacare plans

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Many Americans who purchased a 2014 health plan at HealthCare.gov under the Affordable Care Act didn't shop around this year, and thus were automatically re-enrolled by their insurance company into a similar 2015 plan. A new study by HealthCare.com found that many of these consumers missed an opportunity to save money on their coverage.

Americans can still switch to a different plan, however: Under the ACA, consumers have until Feb. 15, 2015, when open enrollment ends, to revisit HealthCare.gov and purchase a different plan.

Under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” starting in 2014 most Americans were required to either get health coverage or pay a penalty. The penalty for 2015 is the higher of these two amounts: 2 percent of annual household income, up to a maximum penalty equal to the national average premium for a bronze plan. Or $325 per person for the year ($162.50 per child under 18), up to a maximum family penalty per family of $975. More than 80 percent of New Jerseyans who buy coverage at HealthCare.gov qualify for federal subsidies that in many cases significantly lower the cost of health insurance.

HealthCare.com, an online comparison shopping tool for health insurance plans, on Tuesday released a study that found more than 68 percent of the plans available on HealthCare.gov have premium increases of at least $10 for 2015.

The study also found that 85.6 percent of HealthCare.gov plans have at least one similar alternative plan available that would prevent the consumer from paying a premium increase, and would either hold medical deductibles steady or decrease them. According to the study, more than 70 percent of HealthCare.gov plans have less-expensive alternative plans available that could save consumers an average of about $700 a year.

Consumers who did not proactively pick a plan by Dec. 15, and consequently were auto-enrolled in the same or a similar plan for 2015, still have until Feb. 15, 2015, under the ACA to pick a new plan. 

“Multiple news reports have cited the broad, and often steep increases in health insurance premiums and related costs,” said April Seifert, a researcher at HealthCare.com. “The fact is, with 85 percent of the federal marketplace plans, there are money-saving alternatives available that may work just as well as a current plan. Many consumers will benefit from doing a little comparison shopping. And with all of the insurance shopping sites available, including HealthCare.com, it’s easier than ever to take a look at the plan options out there.”

Linda Schwimmer, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said: "The study has severe limitations, and making a blanket statement that it’s a bad deal isn’t a fair assessment. The study only accounts for the most basic cost factors, and doesn’t look at other issues like provider network, prescription drug coverage, etc.  Plus, previous studies have shown that people hate shopping for health insurance, finding it confusing and anxiety-ridden. Auto-enrollment ensures continuous coverage for consumers, while also giving them the option, as even the study notes, to still shop around if they wish."

Earlier this month, HealthCare.com reported that it had seen a nearly 60 percent increase in the number of people that it had referred to one of its insurance partners to buy a health care plan. HealthCare.com estimated that it is on pace to help more than 400,000 consumers to connect with agents, call centers, web-based entities and other enrollers to find medical insurance coverage during the open enrollment period.

Founded in 2006, HealthCare.com is a private, venture-funded provider of online health care-related services. There is no charge to consumers for using HealthCare.com to shop for health plans.


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