From Sticker Shock To Pleasantly Surprised On Tennessee's Health Insurance Marketplace | Nashville Public Radio

From Sticker Shock To Pleasantly Surprised On Tennessee's Health Insurance Marketplace

Dec 13, 2017

More Tennesseans seem to be buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, even though advertising has dropped considerably under the Trump Administration. Open enrollment for 2018 ends Friday at midnight, and the number of applications processed by federally-funded insurance guides — known as navigators — has already surpassed last year. Many enrollees are finding that despite a leap in average price, they are paying less.

Brenda Linn of Mount Juliet was fearful because she's already paying $750 a month just for herself. And the average rate increases approved by Tennessee regulators ranged from 20 to more than 40 percent. She and her husband logged on to Healthcare.gov to see how bad the damage was going to be.

"And I'm like, 'Dave, this has to be a mistake,'" Linn recalls.

Linn, who retired early from teaching kindergarten, qualified for a subsidy. Most people who shop on the marketplace do. And for her mid-level plan, she's now going to pay less than $5 a month.

"Because we didn't qualify last year, I wasn't really that hopeful," Linn says.

While Linn's good fortune has to do with a slight change in her family's financial situation, subsidies across the board in Tennessee are larger this year. That's because they're based on the average insurance price, and that grew considerably. So even those who've gotten a subsidy in the past are finding that it goes further.

More: How Tennesseans Could Pay Less For Obamacare Plans This Year

Daniel Prestwood has cleaned fish tanks for the last 27 years.

"This time of year when you're running your heat a lot, makes the water evaporate more," he says as a noisy pump drones in a downtown law office because of the low water level in the tank.

Being self-employed, Prestwood worked with an insurance navigator and found what he considers a better plan, and his monthly premiums dropped from $300 to $200. But he's also not getting too excited. He knows that the future for the federal marketplace remains uncertain.

"All I know is that for 2018, I'll have a good health care plan in place," Prestwood says. "That's the best I can hope for at this point."

The Numbers For Next Year

Navigators and certified application counselors only work with a fraction of the 235,000 Tennesseans currently enrolled in marketplace plans. But with more than a week left in open enrollment — which is shorter than last year — navigators had helped more than 1,200 individuals purchase plans for 2018. That already exceeds the number assisted by navigators in 2016.

A last-minute surge is expected before Friday at midnight. Navigators are now encouraging walk-ins at their sites around Middle Tennessee.

Currently, the individual mandate still applies, though it is likely to be repealed in the congressional tax bill. The penalty for not enrolling in a qualified health plan is 2.5 percent of a person or family's income or $695 at a minimum.