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Six Things To Know About Open Enrollment

Starting Saturday, Hoosiers can once again sign up for health insurance on the federal exchange.

The three-month open enrollment period, from Nov. 15 to Feb 15, will provide the uninsured a chance to get covered and give those with insurance a chance to shop for better plans.

A lot has changed since the first open enrollment period last year, so we talked to several health care experts to help us break down the key things Indiana residents needs to know and broke what they said into six key areas.

1. Plans default to auto-renew

People who signed up for health insurance on the marketplace during the last enrollment period will automatically have their plans renewed if they do not cancel their plans or select another option.

If you are on the exchange, you probably have received a mailing about this. If you're not sure, try logging on to to see your existing plan.

But, health care experts warn auto-renew might not be the best option...

2. There are a lot more options this year

Last year, there were four insurance providers offering 278 different plans on the federal health exchange. This year, five more insurers have joined the market, bringing the total to nine, and the number of plans has jumped to 975.

It's good news for consumers on cost, and it's good news for consumers on choice.

HealthNet Outreach and Enrollment Manager Jenee' Green, who leads a team certified to help enroll people in the marketplace, says that means a lot more educating needs to be done, and not just for people who are uninsured.

"We're encouraging everyone even if they applied last year to not just auto-renew but look through all of them because there might be some new ones, other options that will ensure them a little more insurance than what they had last year," she says.

Officials with the U.S. Health and Human Services department say even though it might take a little more time to shop around for health insurance, more options is a good thing.

"The statistics historically have shown the more providers you have in an area the more competition you have pricewise and that helps lower prices for consumers. So it's good news for consumers on cost, and it's good news for consumers on choice," says Kathleen Falk, U.S. Health and Human Services Region V director.

3. You'll probably still pay more for insurance

Even with the competition, health insurance costs are still going up, just not as quickly as some people expected, and, for some insurance plans, not as much as last year.

The base rate for premiums in Indiana at Anthem, for example, increased 10 percent this year. In 2015, they are expected to rise on average 2.5 percent.

"With all the different factors and all the different changes, that was pretty good base rate increase," Joe Gilbert, Anthem's vice president of sales for the Indiana, says. "However, for the average consumer it might look different based on the way subsidies are calculated."

Making sure your subsidy is calculated correctly is key.

Health care experts say Hoosiers already enrolled in the marketplace need to update their financial information to make sure they get the right subsidy. Otherwise they could be overpaying or getting too much of a subsidy and have to make up the difference on their taxes next year.

4. But not having insurance also costs more

Like this past year, there is a penalty for not getting insurance with a few exceptions for people who fall in the gap because many states, including Indiana, have not expanded Medicaid.

For everyone else, the penalty for 2015 is $325, up from just $95 last year.

If you don't have insurance, that fee will be tacked on to your 2015 taxes.

5. Two million more Americans are expected to sign up

About 132,000 Hoosiers signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange last year, and approximately 7.1 million Americans nationwide have insurance through the federal and state health insurance exchanges.

Another 2 million are expected to buy insurance during this enrollment period. The federal government has not releases state-by-state predictions.

So who are the people expected to sign up this time around?

Many of them are those that have been uninsured since before the federal exchange went online. Some of those people probably tried to get on the marketplace last time and found it too difficult or decided they were better off paying the $95 penalty for not having insurance (see #4).

Others are like Bloomington resident Jay Horrey, who had a steady health insurance plan until a couple weeks ago.

Anthem sent him and about 30,000 other customers in Indiana a letter this summer, saying they were no longer offering certain insurance plans because they didn't meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

"[The letter] said I could do nothing and it would automatically enroll me in an equivalent policy, but my rates were going to go up by about three times what I was paying," Horrey recalls.

Horrey won't qualify for subsidies, but he still plans to shop on the marketplace in the next three months in hopes of finding a cheaper plan than the one Anthem was offering.

Most likely, so will many other people whose plans have been canceled in recent months.

6. If you have any questions, call a navigator

Health care has been changing rapidly over the past few years. Anthem Vice President Joe Gilbert says it well:

We're here, we're ready to help and we're available.

"We're in an interesting year of transition," he says. "Last year was the first year of health care reform that was really applicable to the average consumer. We're going to be in a period of time where there is a lot of transition in the market. There will be carriers that come and go based on their ability to manage the risk. I think we're just starting down a very interesting path for the average consumer."

That means those looking to buy insurance will probably have a lot of questions.

But health care navigators are in every county (here's a list) and are certified to help you "navigate" your way through the marketplace to buy insurance.

Sitting in her office a couple days before the open enrollment period opens up, Jodi Wolfenbarger explains it this way.

"I'm preparing folders for consumers and scheduling appointments and trying to get the word out there that we're here, we're ready to help and we're available," she says.

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