State officials seek extension for ‘Obamacare’ deadline

DOVER — Delaware officials are asking to extend the deadline for individuals to sign up for health care through the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

Delaware residents currently have until Friday to get coverage, but Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro has requested the federal government push back the end date to Dec. 31.

The deadline last year was Jan. 31.

“We’re a little bit worried about the shorter time period because we know that most people enroll in the last two weeks,” Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker said.

As of Dec. 2, 8,846 Delawareans had signed up for 2018 coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, an increase of 7.3 percent from a similar period in 2016. More than 27,000 people in Delaware enrolled for coverage last year, with 73 percent of them re-enrolling from the prior year.

Coverage for those who enroll through the marketplace begins Jan. 1.

Delaware residents can sign up by visiting www.HealthCare.gov or calling 1-800-318-2596. In-person assistance is available through several Delaware organizations, including Chatman LLC and Westside Family Healthcare. Insurance agents and brokers can also help individuals enroll.

For more information, visit www.ChooseHealthDE.com.

Individuals who do not purchase health care through the marketplace or receive it through their employer must pay a fine. The fee for 2017 is the greater of 2.5 percent of annual household income or $695 per adult plus $347.50 for each child under 18. The maximum fine is $2,085 per household.

Exemptions are available for those who cannot afford care or in other select circumstances.

Delawareans who choose to pay the penalty rather than buy a plan can estimate their penalty on ChooseHealthDE.com.

About four of every five participants in the marketplace are eligible for tax credits. Financial help is available to individuals with an annual household income up to $47,520 and up to $97,200 for a family of four.

“Many people don’t realize that they may be eligible for tax credits to help pay their monthly premiums,” Dr. Walker said. “If you are uncertain about your eligibility based on your annual household income, it’s best to contact a local enrollment assister to help walk you through the process.”

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware is currently the only insurer participating in the Delaware marketplace. Aetna announced earlier this year it would withdraw from the marketplace.

Anyone who had coverage with Aetna will be automatically placed in a similar Highmark plan if they do not select an option.

Mr. Navarro approved a rate increase of 25 percent for Highmark in October. The company had requested a 33.6 percent increase.

Highmark’s offerings include one gold plan, three silver plans, two bronze plans and one catastrophic plan. Bronze plans have low monthly premiums, but high costs for care, while gold plans have high premiums but lower expenses otherwise.

Delta Dental of Delaware Inc. and Dominion Dental Services Inc. have stand-alone dental plans as well.

After open enrollment ends, Delawareans can enroll in coverage only if they experience major life events like having a child, getting married or losing coverage through work.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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