It’s that time again: Time to enroll in health insurance for 2016. Health care and health insurance remain in the news in Oregon, and with everything that’s happening, it’s more important than ever to get the facts about what’s happening and how you and your family can get coverage that works for you. Here’s our guide to Oregon’s open enrollment period, which starts November 1.
Does this affect me and my family?
- If you are currently uninsured, or if you purchase your own coverage, this is your chance to get covered, stay covered or shop around for better coverage.
- If you purchased insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015, you can renew your current plan or shop for another one at healthcare.gov. Plans and rates change every year, so we strongly recommend shopping around before renewing—there’s a good chance you’ll find a better deal.
- If you currently have coverage through your job, through Medicare or another state or federal program, this open enrollment period does not affect you. 
Where to go to get covered
- Starting November 1, Oregonians who need to buy health coverage on their own should go to healthcare.gov, the online marketplace for health insurance. All plans on the marketplace have comprehensive coverage, and you can’t be turned away or charged more for a pre-existing condition.
- Many Oregonians will qualify for tax credits to help pay for coverage if they enroll through healthcare.gov. Learn more about these tax credits here.
- If you think you or anyone in your family may qualify for the Oregon Health Plan, check oregonhealthcare.gov for information about eligibility and enrollment. There is no open enrollment period for the Oregon Health Plan and you may enroll at any time if you qualify.
Key Dates and Deadlines
- November 1: Open enrollment begins
- December 15: Deadline to enroll in coverage beginning January 1, 2016.
- January 15: Deadline to enroll in coverage beginning February 1, 2016.
- January 31: Open enrollment ends
- You cannot enroll in health coverage through healthcare.gov after January 31 unless you experience a special life-changing event such as having a baby—see here for info about your options if you miss open enrollment.
Using the Marketplace
- To start the enrollment process and see if you qualify for tax credits to help pay for coverage, go to healthcare.gov and create an account. To do this, you need some basic information about yourself and everyone else you want to cover—for example, a spouse or children. See here for a checklist of info you may need.
- Once you have created an account, healthcare.gov can let you know whether you or anyone in your family qualifies for tax credits or programs like the Oregon Health Plan.
- At healthcare.gov, you can compare health insurance plans apples-to-apples in plain language. Without creating a user profile, you can “window shop” to see what plans would cost you with and without tax credits here.
- If you need help applying or picking the plan that’s right for you and your family, free in-person help is available from community groups and insurance agents statewide. To find in-person help near you, use this online tool. You can also call the health insurance marketplace 24/7 at 1-800-318-2596.
- If you enrolled through the Marketplace in 2015 and you are happy with your plan, you will likely be able to auto-renew. However, we strongly recommend taking the opportunity to shop around. Health insurance premiums change from year to year. For 2016, many premiums are increasing steeply. If your insurer is hiking premiums, you may be able to find a better deal elsewhere.
- If you are receiving tax credits to help pay for coverage this year, those credits may change next year, so make sure you look into all your options to make sure you’re getting the best deal and making the most of your tax credit eligibility.
- If your personal circumstances have changed—for example, if you are making significantly more or less money, or if you have gotten married or had a baby—you need to report these changes via healthcare.gov, and your eligibility for tax credits or programs like the Oregon Health Plan may change, so you should be sure to shop around and look into all your options.
Tips for getting the best deal
- Don’t just look at the premium. Out-of-pocket charges for health care services and prescription drugs can quickly break the bank if you aren’t careful, especially if you have health conditions that need regular medical attention. Plans with low premiums often have high out-of-pocket costs, so be sure to check co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance rates as well as premiums. See here for a simple tool to help you figure out what kind of plan is best for you. The Marketplace also has a tool that provides a rough estimate of yearly out-of-pocket expenses for each plan as you shop.
- To look into the details of costs and coverage for different services, check a plan’s Summary of Benefits and Coverage document, which is available via healthcare.gov.
- Check out the plan’s network. Health insurance plans usually have a network of participating doctors and hospitals, and may not allow you to go outside that network, or may charge you more if you do. Some insurance companies may also have different networks for different health plans they offer.
- Some health insurance plans try to keep down costs by having very small networks that limit consumer choice. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important make sure you know what you’re buying—especially if you have a relationship with a doctor that you want to keep.
- You can find info on networks through provider directories, which are posted on insurance company websites. If it’s important for you to keep your current doctor, you should also ask him or her directly, since provider directories are not always accurate and up-to-date.
- Check out the plan’s prescription drug coverage. This is especially important if you have a prescription that you know you need. You can find general info the cost of drugs via the Summary of Benefits and Coverage, but if you want detailed list of specific covered drugs, you need to check the insurer’s formulary, which is available via the insurance company website.
With all of the new options and consumer protections out there, it’s easier than ever to find a health plan that works for you and your family, but it can still be challenging, and we all know that health care still costs too much. At OSPIRG, we’re trying to do something about that, but we’ve still got our work cut out for us.
Please stay in touch as you shop for coverage and let us know about your experience. We are here to be your advocate.
 Medicare open enrollment is also underway, and ends December 7. Check this handy guide recently published by USA Today for a quick rundown of the basics. If you have questions or require personalized assistance with Medicare open enrollment, contact Oregon's Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance Program (SHIBA) at 1-800-722-4134.