Northwest Colorado residents encouraged to get health insurance help | CraigDailyPress.com

Northwest Colorado residents encouraged to get health insurance help

— The third open enrollment period for health coverage starts Sunday, and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is ramping up to help Northwest Coloradans get covered.

Individuals looking to find a new health insurance plan have from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 to enroll. The VNA is encouraging everyone to re-evaluate their current plans, however, rather than simply letting it roll over into the new year.

"We're really encouraging people to re-shop the plan and make sure they're getting the best plan for them and their family, said VNA Director of Business Development Janie Dunckley. "Obviously, there are rate changes and premium changes," and more competitive rates might be available through a different plan.

Customers of Colorado HealthOP, a health insurance co-op that was decertified earlier this month, will have to seek new coverage for next year, however the plan wasn't as popular among Northwest Coloradans as some others, according to Dunckley.

One change that could have a big impact on those who have avoided getting health coverage, Dunckley said, is that the penalty for not having coverage increases substantially this year.

Individuals without coverage in 2016 will pay the higher of 2.5 percent of their yearly household income or a fine of $695 per person, according to Healthcare.gov. The same applies to families, who would pay an additional fee of $347.50 per child under 18, with a maximum penalty per family of $2,085 by that method.

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"It could be quite a chunk of change for a family to go uninsured whereas in the past, it was a little more nominal and people could justify not having coverage," Dunckley said. "Now it's going to make a dent. That will be a nasty surprise come tax time."

In 2015, the fee for not having coverage is the higher of 2 percent of yearly household income or $325 per person. Families will owe $162.50 per child under 18, with a maximum family penalty of $975. The fee is owed with federal income taxes.

To help ease consumers through the process of finding the right plan and taking advantage of tax subsidies available to them, the VNA is once again offering the services of health coverage guides. The guides will be available throughout the enrollment period for one-on-one consultations as well as drop-in sessions in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties.

"Our big strategy this year is to make sure consumers get connected with a person who can help them with the process since it's a cumbersome process sometimes," Dunckley said.

Tax subsidies continue to be available through Connect for Health Colorado, the state's health insurance marketplace, for individuals and families in certain income tax brackets.

With premium rates going up an average of 9.8 percent next year for individuals and families, according to a press release from Connect for Health, subsidies are also going up for those who qualify.

The average subsidy per enrollee is about $221 per month in 2015, or 58 percent of the average premium. In 2016, that average subsidy jumps to $328, or about 74 percent of the average premium. That means eligible customers would actually see their premium costs drop by about 27 percent if they keep their current coverage, according to the release.

Those who want coverage starting Jan. 1 must be enrolled by Dec. 15. To get enrolled, visit connectforhealthco.com or call the VNA at 970-871-7324 to set up an appointment with a health coverage guide.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.

Open enrollment drop-in sessions

Health coverage guides and local health insurance brokers will be available to answer questions and help consumers fill out financial applications and get enrolled. Bring a laptop, if possible, and social security numbers for all members of the family.

• 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 21, Victory building at 500 Yampa Ave., Craig

• 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 14, YampaCare Family Medicine, Craig

• 5:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 14, YampaCare Family Medicine, Craig

Northwest Colorado health insurance brokers

•Saylre Sawle, Northwest Colorado Health Insurance, LLC, http://www.nwcohl.com

970-846-6384

•Greg Neal, Western Slope Health Insurance, LLC

970-824-1045

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