Pablo and Elliot Kirk, an insurance agent from Rigby, said plan upgrades were especially common. “The COVID relief legislation provides more financial help, to more people, than ever before to help them pay for health insurance,” said Hillarie Hagen, a health policy analyst for Idaho Voices for Children. “I had one client that was paying somewhere in the $400 range. The tax credit (raise) came in, and dropped it all the way down to $76,” Kirk said in a phone interview last month. For about $70 more, they upgraded to a gold plan — the highest of three tiers — for a total of $140, he said.
Usually, people who have health insurance plans through government-run marketplaces can only upgrade or enroll in new plans during a few-week period at the end of the year, said Pat Kelly, director of Idaho’s exchange, Your Health Idaho. But after the federal government opened its market, states — including Idaho — followed suit with their own markets. “The big impact was that people could save money, have better benefits to their health plans and better coverage,” Mariana Pablo, an enrollment counselor who doesn’t sell plans but helps people navigate insurance, said in a phone interview.
A sweeping federal relief package targeted markets to boost insurance in two more ways: By offering bigger tax credit discounts for people already eligible, and by making people with higher incomes eligible. The legislation offers steeper insurance discounts throughout 2021 and 2022, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But the open season that ended last month also paved the way for people with policies to save money and get higher levels of coverage, according to two people in eastern Idaho who assist with insurance enrollment.
It’s “similar to your car being stalled on the railroad tracks and now you want auto insurance and your house is on fire and you want homeowner insurance,” Cameron said. “That’s a feature with health insurance that we have to guard against.” Cameron said March’s special open enrollment period was a test to see how enrollment would be affected. He noted that the state had just exited its regular open enrollment period in November and December, which was extended two weeks longer than planned. Idaho later extended open season until April 30. Dean Cameron, director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, which oversees private insurance markets, said prolonged open season makes it easy for people to only enroll in insurance when they need medical care or are diagnosed with a new condition. If people aren’t paying premiums continuously, it leaves insurers to foot big bills without consistent payment, Cameron said.
Idaho regulators say keeping Idaho’s insurance market open for longer, like some other states and the federal government are doing, could risk a rise in monthly premiums. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in early May the federal relief had caused almost 940,000 Americans to enroll in plans through the federal marketplace. The federal market will stay open until Aug. 15. Idahoans can only enroll in plans on the state-based exchange.
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