Obamacare 2018 enrollment is now open

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The enrollment period to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act began Wednesday, but far fewer Americans may be aware of it because the advertising budget was cut by the Trump administration by 90 percent compared to last year.

Hoping to make up part of the difference, former President Barack Obama is turning to social media and an advertising firm is calling for donated ads and media space.

In a video posted by a group of former officials who oversaw enrollment efforts during his administration, Obama encourages people to seek coverage so they don’t face the growing tax penalty.

“Healthcare.gov is open for business right now,” the former president says in the short video. The simple, straight-to-camera message is a far cry from the elaborate, viral videos he made in years past.

Obama’s efforts to advertise the enrollment window during his administration included making a video on Snapchat where he used a filter on his face, for BuzzFeed where he used a selfie stick, and on Funny or Die’s series “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.”

Separately, Coverage Coalition, a project started by the firm Barton F. Graf, has three rules for donated ads: They should share the message of when and where people can sign up for health care, they should be creative, and they shouldn’t be political.

“We believe that no matter what your politics are, you should have access to this information and the health care you need,” Katherine Dorey, a spokeswoman for the agency, told CNN’s COVER/LINE in an email.

In the lead-up to the enrollment window, the agency created a number of ads it posted on the Instagram account for Coverage Coalition.

In August, the Trump administration announced it was slashing the budget to advertise for signing up for health care through the ACA, or Obamacare, from $100 million to $10 million. Since then, President Donald Trump has inaccurately claimed the ACA is dead.

“There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore,” he said earlier this month during a Cabinet meeting. “You shouldn’t even mention it anymore. It’s gone.”

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that repealing the ACA would be one of his first acts as president, but so far, Republicans’ efforts to do so have fallen short.

A CNN poll earlier this month found 60 percent of Americans believe the Trump administration and Congress should prioritize trying to make sure the current health insurance system works as its supposed to rather than replacing it with something else.

In 2016, about $100 million was spent on advertising and 9.2 million people signed up for health coverage through the federal exchange. In 2015, $51.2 million was spent and 9.6 million people signed up.

Enrollment for health care begins Nov. 1 and runs until Dec. 15.

Most will be pay less

While it’s true that premiums for the popular silver Obamacare plan could shoot higher for 2018, most enrollees could actually end up paying less for coverage next year.

In fact, more consumers will be able to snag policies that will cost them nothing each month.

How can that be? It’s because premium subsidies are soaring too, making many plans on the exchanges more affordable.

The Trump administration, however, is stressing how much premiums will rise, saying this is yet another sign that Obamacare is irreparably broken. Officials are downplaying the fact that the subsidies will cover most, if not all, of the increase for many consumers.

Obamacare advocates worry that consumers will be scared off by the news that premiums are skyrocketing for next year. They plan to highlight the fact that many people will be able to find lower-premium policies thanks to the subsidies.

Even the Trump administration found that Obamacare plans will be more affordable for many consumers next year. Some 80 percent of enrollees will be able to find a policy for $75 a month or less — up from 71 percent this year and the highest share so far.

“This year, more people than any previous year have access to a plan for $75 or less,” said Josh Peck, a former Obama administration official and co-founder of Get America Covered, which is promoting enrollment for 2018. “That’s what we want everyone to know.”

Here’s why this is happening:

Many insurers jacked up the rates of their silver plans in part to make up for President Trump ending federal support for Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies. These subsidies reduce deductibles and co-pays for lower-income enrollees.

Premiums for the benchmark silver Obamacare plan will soar 37%, on average, for 2018, according to federal data released Monday.

The premium subsidies are pegged to a benchmark silver plan in each market. So if that plan’s rate rises, the value of the subsidy does too. More than eight in 10 Obamacare enrollees receive premium subsidies.

Insurers, however, did not hike the price of bronze or gold plans nearly as much. The rate of the lowest-cost bronze plan is rising 17 percent, on average, while the cheapest gold plan is going up 19 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That means the more generous premium subsidies will cover more of the monthly cost of these plans, so consumers will pay less.

A 40-year-old earning $25,000 will pay 75 percent less, on average, for the cheapest bronze plan and 21 percent less for the lowest-cost gold plan, according to a new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A 40-year-old earning $40,000 will see a 28 percent drop, on average, in the price of the cheapest bronze plan, and an 8 percent decrease in the least expensive gold plan’s premium.

Bronze plans have lower premiums, but their deductibles are higher — nearly $5,900, on average, for an individual in 2018, according to a new report from Health Pocket, an online health insurance shopping tool. Meanwhile, gold plans have higher premiums, but their deductibles are only $1,320 on average for a single enrollee next year.

The cheapest gold plan will have lower premiums than the least-expensive silver plan in 459 counties next year once subsidies are factored in, Kaiser found. Silver plans will have an average deductible of just over $4,000 next year.

Many more consumers will be able to enroll in bronze plans and pay nothing each month. For instance, a 48-year-old consumer earning roughly $30,000 can find a zero-premium policy in nearly 1,050 counties next year, up from 132 counties in 2017, according to an analysis by Oliver Wyman consulting group.

Not everyone, however, will be so fortunate. Enrollees who don’t qualify for premium subsidies — those who earn more than $48,000 as an individual or $98,500 for a family of four in 2018 — may be hit with the full premium hike. They may be better off buying bronze or gold plans or looking for individual coverage outside of the Obamacare exchanges.

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