What small business owners need to know about 2018 open enrollment

Open enrollment to purchase health insurance plans for 2018 through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual marketplaces has started and there are some important changes for small business owners to note this year. If you’re a self-employed entrepreneur or have employees who need coverage through Healthcare.gov, check out these key facts about this year’s open enrollment below.

Most critically, the enrollment period through the federal marketplace is shorter this year, running from November 1 through December 15. This is just half the time of last year’s open enrollment. Eight states and the District of Columbia have extended open enrollment beyond December 15, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Washington (you can find your state’s deadline here). The shorter enrollment period means it’s critical that you check out your options and enroll as soon as possible.

You might also notice less assistance in enrolling than in previous years, as the budget for ACA “navigators,” unbiased groups that help people enroll on the exchanges, has been severely cut. But the good news is that there are still many fantastic resources out there, including our website healthcoverageguide.org, as well as helpful explainers on 2018 enrollment from organizations like Get America Covered, the Commonwealth Fund and the American Hospital Association. You can also find local resources to help you enroll through this tool on Healthcare.gov.

It’s also extremely important to understand that, while there has been much media coverage of rising premiums, it’s very likely costs will remain stable for most enrollees. In fact, 84% of enrollees in the exchanges qualify for premium tax credits (individuals with incomes under $48,240 and families of four with incomes under $98,400). These premium tax credits mean that 8 out of 10 enrollees will be able to find a plan for less than $75 a month or less.

Despite the confusion surrounding the ACA following this past summer’s repeal and replace efforts, the law has not been repealed and Americans are still required to have health insurance coverage. And since the healthcare law remains intact, ACA-compliant plans still offer important benefits. This means insurers cannot deny coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions or drop someone when they get sick, there are no lifetime caps on coverage, and plans must offer preventive care and other essential health benefits (EHBs) like maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health and other important benefits. Access to the premium tax credits is another benefit to purchasing coverage through the ACA marketplaces.

For small businesses using the federal Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) to purchase insurance, there are also proposed changes to the program that could affect 2018 coverage. While SHOP enrollment is year-round and not limited to the open enrollment deadline of December 15, these proposed changes will affect plans that go into effect starting January 1, 2018 or later. After November 15, small businesses will no longer be able to shop online for a group plan through Healthcare.gov. They can still use the site to compare plans and verify eligibility for tax credits, but will then need to work with a broker or agent or purchase directly through a carrier. You can read more about the changes to SHOP enrollment here.

It’s important that small business owners and self-employed individuals educate themselves and explore their options early. The ACA is still the law of the land, and coverage will still be affordable for most enrollees this year. Don’t wait to ensure you, your family and your employees are covered in 2018!