Obamacare Customers Beware: Lower Subsidies May Mean Higher Premiums

Dec 3, 2019

 The Legal Aid Justice Center is warning people who get their health insurance through Obamacare that some tax breaks designed to help consumers afford coverage are down – and that could mean higher premiums in 2020.

The deadline for getting healthcare coverage through Healthcare.gov is December 15.
Credit The Commonwealth Fund

Charlottesville made headlines two years ago when residents were charged the highest premiums in the nation thru the online marketplace Healthcare.gov.  After months of bad publicity and the arrival of competition, Optima lowered its premiums by 20% for residents of Charlottesville and six surrounding counties, while Anthem dropped its rates by about six percent.

“Therefore expectations might have been that this could be a very good year," says Jack Hanrahan, a volunteer with the Legal Aid Justice Center. "The problem is that the tax credits that help people pay their monthly premium have shrunk. Take a female, 45 years old , making $25,000 a year.  That person would have paid – round numbers --$81 a month.  Now that person, to get the same plan that she had, would pay $203 a month."

He and attorney Michaela Lieberman say consumers are now getting letters urging them to renew their coverage.

“They’re being mailed notices from their health insurance company that say, ‘You can automatically re-enroll at a very low rate,’” she explains.

Unless they ask about subsidies, she and Hanrahan worry people may get locked into premiums they can’t afford.    

"I would strongly suggest that you not allow yourself to be auto-enrolled,” he warns.

Instead, consult a counselor.  You’ll find resources below.  Lieberman adds that some policies in this area have much smaller networks of healthcare providers than they did last year, so consumers should also call their doctors to make sure  their insurance will still cover care in 2020. 

“We’ve seen consumers have to change their children’s pediatricians.  We’ve seen folks who depended on specially care at UVA have to make a difficult decision between actually getting the specialty care they need and not going bankrupt.”

While their focus has been on Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Green, Nelson, Louisa and Orange Counties, consumers in Lynchburg, Richmon and Virginia Beach may also see higher premiums because subsidies were lowered. Lieberman hopes the state’s Insurance Board will correct this situation – or maybe the governor will step up.

"Governor Northam is certainly welcome to text me," she jokes. "I think it is an issue that seems to be a priority of his."

The open enrollment period for Obamacare runs through December 15.  I’m Sandy Hausman.

For more information call the Legal Aid Justice Center at 434-220-1496, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging 434-817-5222 (info@jabacares.org)  or visit http://www.enrollva.org/