WASHINGTON (AP) — The future of the Affordable Care Act is unclear, stirring up financial and medical concerns for many consumers. It leaves some to wonder: What now?
Experts say the best thing to do is to focus on the here and now — including the midnight Tuesday deadline to sign up.
About 11.5 million people nationally had signed up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s public exchanges as of the end of December. In California, 1.3 million Californians have renewed their plans, and over 327,000 have signed up for new coverage, according to officials with Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange.
President Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the health care law, known as Obamacare, but lawmakers have yet to reach an agreement on a replacement.
“What we have seen, certainly following the election but it continues today, is uncertainty,” said Jennifer Sullivan, vice president of programs at Enroll America. “The truth is no one knows how the law will fare this year, the uncertainty is warranted.”
In the meantime, here’s what experts suggest:
The process to repeal or replace the law could take time, but a health emergency could hit at any time. And without insurance, it could be financially disastrous.
So if you don’t have health insurance, consider signing up.
The final deadline to access coverage through the Affordable Care Act is midnight Tuesday. If you sign up by then, you can get coverage by March for the remainder of 2017 and avoid a tax penalty for being uninsured.
Special enrollment periods are still available after the deadline, which allows people to adjust coverage if they are going through life-changing circumstances such as marriage, divorce, loss of a job or the birth of a child.
It’s still the law, experts say, so it’s in your best interest to have insurance. Though people may worry that their coverage could be yanked away, health insurance policies are legal contracts that guarantee coverage for the year and are unlikely to be challenged.
So should you bother to enroll? Absolutely. In California, consumers should first visit http://www.coveredca.com to find out how to sign up and where to get help.
It’s important to keep paying your premiums if you are enrolled in a health plan. Experts say many people getting coverage under Obamacare haven’t had insurance before, so they need to understand that if you don’t pay your bill, you could lose your coverage.
Be mindful to use services that are within your insurer’s provider network to control costs while you’re on the plan. And financial advisers say to brace for health care cost increases each year, regardless of where you get your insurance.
Do what you need to do while you have insurance, said Kathryn Hauer, a financial planner and author of the book “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.”
People tend to put off care — doctor’s appointments, medication or even surgery— but this is not the time to do so, she said. While some have criticized Obamacare-related plans for being high in cost or offering bare-bones coverage, seeking treatment while you know the costs and coverage may be in your best financial interest. And some preventative care services, such as flu shots, are provided at no cost under the health law.
If you suspect you might not be able to afford care later if the Affordable Care Act’s format changes, look at your alternatives. You might not need them, but it can help you feel prepared and provide peace of mind.
Find out if you can get coverage through someone else’s policy, such as a parent, spouse or domestic partner. Check if your employer’s policy might have changed since you last looked. Or research what free or low-cost medical services are available in your community.
Seek advice from your doctor, financial planner, insurance broker or community organizer for your individual situation.
Remember: changes to the Affordable Care Act aren’t a done deal. And while the prospect may be upsetting, it’s not the first time there have been uncertainties in the process — from a rocky rollout to challenges in court.
Experts say to take comfort in the fact that you have coverage now and the indications — both from Congress and the president — that there will be health insurance options ahead for those who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
California consumers interested in enrolling online can do so on CoveredCA.com. They can also get free and confidential in-person assistance, in a variety of languages, by clicking on “Free Local Help to Enroll.” They can find a nearby enroller or have a certified enroller contact them through the “Help on Demand” feature. Consumers can also enroll over the phone by calling Covered California at (800) 300-1506.