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Plans, Choices Changing in Year Two


Back in November, Phil Ammann of St. Petersburg was figuring out what he was going to do for health insurance. He found himself having to select a new plan, since the plan he bought on, was no longer going to be an option in 2015.

He wasn't the only Floridian going back to re-enroll in a plan.  According to federal health officials, 51 percent of the 673,255 Floridians who enrolled during the first weeks of enrollment were returning customers. 

Jodi Ray, the director of Florida Covering Kids and Families, which has in-person assisters called navigators in every Florida county again this year helping people enroll, says this open enrollment period has been “sort of a mixed bag.”

“I mean a lot of people did get plans they were very happy with and they were able to retain those plans,” Ray said. "Some people are even saying that they’re getting better prices because they’re updating their information for 2015. Some people are choosing to pick a new health plan."

The choices vary in Florida by county.  In smaller counties, there are a handful of companies and a couple dozen plans for sale, while people who live in more urban communities, such as in South Florida, have more than 90 plans to compare.

Before the federal health law, Ammann said he didn't have many options when it came to health insurance, since companies could deny him coverage based on his pre-existing condition: high blood pressure he's had since he was in his 30s. This year, Ammann could compare more than 50 plans.

And while he liked his plan for 2014, he had to shop again, as his insurer -- Coventry One -- stopped offering plans in Pinellas County. That plan expired Dec. 31. Insurance enrollment in year two, he says, wasn't too difficult.

"It was much easier, much more intuitive,” Ammann said. “Of course this year, it remembered all my previous entries, so it made filling out, or reapplying, much, much quicker and much easier.”

And, his deductible for his new plan from Humana will cost him about $5,000 less than his old plan.

"So that makes it a lot more comforting because if something should happen, at least I know that I won't be stuck with a huge bill because of it,” he said.

For 2015, Ammann gets about $300 each month in premium assistance. That's the same subsidy he earned last year.

"I upgraded my plan to a silver plan, with a much better deductible, and the amount that the government is kicking in because of my finances, the amount that the government is kicking because of my finances, is about the same,” he said.

He said his new plan will start Feb. 1. His selection for 2015 wasn't finalized until after Dec. 15 -- a deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. Ammann says he isn't upset.

"So I do have a month where I'm without insurance, but compared to the almost decade that I didn't have insurance, I can wait an extra month,” he said.

Open enrollment runs through Feb. 15, and under the federal health law, most Americans will have to enroll in a health plan by that date, or they will face a tax penalty.

For one adult in 2015, the penalty increases to 2 percent of household income, or $325 dollars, whichever is greater.

As the Associated Press reports, sign-ups under President Barack Obama's health care law grew slowly but steadily over the New Year's holiday, as the share of Americans still lacking coverage hit its lowest level in years.

The Obama administration reported Wednesday that nearly 103,000 people signed up last week in the 37 states where the federal government is running online health insurance markets, bringing total enrollment for 2015 to 6.6 million in those states. The remaining states are running their own exchanges.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup survey found that 12.9 percent of the adult population remained without coverage in the last three months of 2014, the lowest share since the pollster began daily tracking of the uninsured in 2008, before Obama took office.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate dropped 4.2 percentage points over the past year as the health law's major coverage expansion went into effect. Other analysts have estimated that those gains translate to at least 10 million uninsured people getting coverage. A year ago 17.1 percent of adults were uninsured.

--Health News Florida producer/reporter Lottie Watts is part of WUSF Public Media in Tampa. Contact Watts at 813-974-8705 (desk) or e-mail at Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.