The Virginia Health Insurance Exchange (also referred to as a "Marketplace") began Open Enrollment on November 1st for 2016 effective dates. Regardless of any pre-existing conditions, individuals, families and small businesses can apply for affordable medical coverage in Virginia from the top-rated companies. You can not be denied for medical conditions and a special federal subsidy helps reduce premiums. Unless otherwise notified, you may keep the existing plan you have, or change policies.
About 900,000 Va residents are currently without coverage. About 800,000 persons should be eligible for government assistance, either through the State Exchange or the expansion of Medicaid, if approved in the future by legislation. Raising the Federal Poverty Level requirements would allow more persons to qualify for low-cost (sometimes free) Medicaid. However, many states that have improved Medicaid expansion have seen costs rise, which is wreaking havoc on budgets.
What Type Of Plans Are Available?
There are four available types of policies. They are Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The expected percentage of medical claims covered under each policy is 60%, 70%, 80% and 90% respectively. The Platinum is the "Cadillac" of the four choices, offering the lowest out-of-pocket costs if you have a claim. The Bronze plan is the cheapest option, but you will incur higher charges when you submit a claim. However, it can be a big money-saver for persons that desire low premiums but are willing to assume more risk.
Also, a "Catastrophic" option is available for younger persons (under age 30) and applicants that have special financial needs. These policies are cheaper than other Metal plans but feature much lower benefits. You must be under age 30 to qualify for this type of low-cost plan. Exceptions are made if you meet specific financial hardship exceptions. Some examples include recently filing for bankruptcy, large unpaid medical bills, homelessness, victim of domestic violence, recent fire, flood or other natural disaster, death of a close family member, and your utilities have been shut off.
NOTE: If you qualify for a federal subsidy and your income does not exceed 250% of the Federal Poverty Level, a Silver-tier plan may be a better option than a Bronze or catastrophic option. "Cost-sharing" is only offered on Silver plans, and often allows you to dramatically reduce deductibles and copays. In those situations, it is much more cost-effective to select the Silver contracts. However, if your income significantly increases the following year, reviewing all options is recommended.
Company And Plan Requirements
Each carrier must offer at least one Silver and Gold plan inside the State Exchange. By making these two options available, carriers are allowed to sell coverage "away" from the Exchange. Sometimes, contracts outside of the Marketplace will feature larger networks of doctors, specialists and hospitals with more competitive pricing (assuming you don't qualify for a subsidy). However, no subsidy applies, so generally, lower income households should not consider these policies.
Compliant plans are "standardized," and contain very similar core benefits. The federal government, when passing "The Affordable Care Act," felt there were too many choices for consumers to properly make an informed decision. A set of "essential health benefits," or core coverage, must be included in all policies. Some of the prominent benefits include maternity, prescriptions, preventive benefits, hospitalization and mental health.
You can not enroll in a Marketplace plan in Virginia unless it contains these 10 mandated benefits. If any are missing, the policy is "non-compliant," and you are subject to the special tax-penalty since you are considered "uninsured." Many 2016 student plans offered by colleges and universities no longer meet these requirements since their grandfathering period ended in September of 2015. Therefore, Va Exchange options for students have become very popular.
There are also policies that don't meet Obamacare requirements and are subject to the 2.5% household income tax penalty. However, in certain situations, paying the tax could be offset by the substantial savings of the plan premiums. But there may also be an unusually high deductible, which may be specifically what consumers are looking for. "Short-term" plans are non-compliant and subject to this penalty. But if you miss Open Enrollment and are not eligible for a "Special Enrollment Period" exception, they should be strongly considered since they are very cheap and can provide benefits until the next eligibility period.
If only a few months of benefits are needed, then temporary medical plans would be the most appropriate. They will get you from Point A to Point B without putting a big dent in your budget. Prices are often about one-half to one-third the cost of a standard plan. But, as earlier discussed, since they are not ACA-approved, pre-existing conditions are not covered.
Are The Same Policies Offered In All Counties?
No. The SCC Bureau approves all policies in advance, and each year, new options are added. Separately, there are six options for small businesses. The vast majority of areas can choose among three or four options. But although there are still some specific areas where only a single policy can be chosen (The Southwestern part of the state), additional carriers are entering the Marketplace.
For example, in the Richmond area, four companies are available. They are Coventry, HealthKeepers, Optima, and UnitedHealthcare. However, in the Charlottesville area, UnitedHealthcare is not available. In the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area, only HealthKeepers and Optima offer plans. However, in Arlington, six carriers offer coverage including Kaiser Permanente and Innovation Health.
How And When Do I Buy A Policy
There is a standard online application that takes about 10-20 minutes to complete utilizing double-redirect software. Additional good news is there are no medical questions! You can apply for coverage through our website by first requesting a quote near the upper part of this page. Your eligibility is virtually guaranteed and you can apply alone or with live assistance. The choice is yours. Of course, there are no fees or extra charges to pay.
During the enrollment process, only basic information is needed, such as your name, address, phone number, email address, and dates of birth of all persons applying for coverage. Social security number and the name of the plan you are applying for will also be needed. And finally, if you are requesting a federal subsidy to reduce the rate, household income and employment information may be needed. Occasionally, citizenship may have to be verified if you recently moved to the US or Virginia.
If you are eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, there is a separate enrollment process. Medicaid eligibility guidelines have been expanded for lower-income residents of the state. Children may also be able to qualify for special low-cost or no-cost programs. The Department Of Medical Assistant Services administers Medicaid and CHIP, which is also known as FAMIS. There are both financial and non-financial requirements.
The Open Enrollment period began November 1st and runs through January 31, 2016. However, there are specific circumstances (triggering events) that will allow you to apply at any time. For instance, getting married, getting divorced, giving birth, or adopting a child will all qualify. If you wish to change from one Metal plan to another, (Bronze to Gold, Platinum to Silver etc...) you will have to wait until the next Open Enrollment. NOTE: These "triggering events" create an SEP (Special Enrollment Period) exception.
Sample Virginia Health Insurance Marketplace Rates
Our sample prices are based on a three-person household (45 year-old parents and one child) in Arlington County with total adjusted gross income (AGI) of 50,000. The estimated federal subsidy of $439 has already been deducted from the premium. Illustrated are several of the most popular plans. Rates shown are monthly:
$128 -- Innovation Health Leap Bronze Basic -- $6,850 deductible with 100% coverage after deductible is met.
$144 -- Innovation Health Leap Bronze HSA -- $6,450 deductible with 0% coinsurance. Inexpensive Health Savings Account option.
$149 -- Innovation Health Leap Bronze Plus -- Similar to "Basic" plan, but $10 generic drug copay included.
$150 -- CareFirst BlueChoice HSA Bronze $6,550 -- Another HSA option with $6,550 deductible and no coinsurance.
$168 -- CareFirst BlueChoice HSA Bronze $6,000 -- Similar to prior plan with lower deductible.
$174 -- KP VA Bronze $6,000/20%/HSA -- Another HSA option. $6,000 deductible with 20% coinsurance.
$303 -- Innovation Health Leap Silver Basic -- $25 pcp copay with $4,210 deductible and $10 generic drug copay.
$339 -- KP VA Silver 2750/20/HSA -- Attractive $1,400 deductible HSA-eligible plan. Standard 20% coinsurance.
$352 -- UnitedHealthcare Silver Compass HSA 2000 -- Also HSA-eligible with $1,800 deductible and maximum out-of-pocket expenses of $5,450.
$358 -- Innovation Health Leap Silver Plus -- $4,000 deductible with no coinsurance and $10 pcp copay.
$382 -- KP VA Silver 2500/30 -- Low $1,300 deductible with $30 and $50 office visit copays. Very attractive option.
$388 -- UnitedHealthcare Silver Compass 4500 -- $3,250 deductible with $10 and $30 office visit copays and low $5 generic drug copay.
$516 -- UnitedHealthcare Gold Compass 0 -- No deductible with $30 and $60 office visit copays.
$530 -- UnitedHealthcare Gold Compass 1000 -- $1,000 deductible but lower copays ($10 and $30) than previous plan. Maximum out-of-pocket expenses are the same ($6,850).
$554 -- Kaiser KP VA Gold -- $1,000 deductible with slightly maximum lower out-of-pocket expenses ($6,350). Office visit copays are $20 and $40.
$609 -- Innovation Health Leap Gold Basic -- $3,500 deductible with $10 pcp office visit copay. However, specialist copay is $75.
$650 -- KP VA 0/10/Dental/Ped Dental from Kaiser -- Similar to Gold-tier plan, although office visit copays are lower ($10 and $20). Since maximum out-of-pocket expense is $4,000 instead of $6,350, it's sometimes worth paying the extra premium.
$949 -- HealthyBlue $0 from Kaiser -- No charge for pcp office visits and low $2,000 maximum out-of-pocket costs. Specialty drugs, however, have a high $200 copay.
$1,023 -- BluePreferred $0 from CareFirst BC -- $0 deductible with maximum $1,800 out-of-pocket expenses. $20 and $30 copays on pcp and specialist visits.
Who Is Operating The Program?
The federal government is running the show, which is not unusual. Because of the large cost of handling the entire operation and transformation, many states are saving hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing the federal government to operate their Exchange. The same applies to smaller businesses (less than 100 employees). The "SHOP" Exchange offers coverage and gives employers an opportunity to select among numerous options. If you do not own a small business, there is no reason to utilize the SHOP Marketplace.
Virginia is involved with some of the management of plans, but essentially plays a backseat role. However, in the future, if the state government chooses, they can request to operate the Virginia Health Exchange Marketplace and take over the operation. A few years ago, Governor McDonnell discussed legislation regarding the state's roll, but no vote ever took place. Typically, because of the cost, individual states do not operate their own programs.
What Are Navigators And Why Did Our State Get So Much Money For Them?
"Navigators" are not experienced licensed brokers that can compare and recommend the best plans for you. They are simply "workers" that are hired to help with the enrollment process of uninsured consumers. They typically are not licensed and their qualifications are very vague. They also may have access to your personal financial information. And yes, $2.5 million dollars was originally spent on them, with the total figure rising each year.
Although their role is flexible, we believe they can best serve residents of the state that either have no internet access, or choose not to utilize the internet for comparing and applying for coverage. Also, it's possible that there are Virginia residents that do not have the needed transportation to travel, and will require an in-home visit. But experienced brokers along with their reputable and reliable websites continue to be the best resources for providing expert advice and customized recommendations.
Can I Keep The Policy That I Have Now?
Despite promises from various sources, not everyone can keep their existing plan. If your policy was "grandfathered,' (your carrier will notify you if it is), you can keep coverage without having to be forced to purchase new coverage. Although it will mean that your existing contract is lacking some essential mandated benefits, it still may be the best choice for you. NOTE: Your insurer can terminate the policy although written notification must be given. All grandfathered plans are expected to be terminated by 2017.
Another very distinct possibility is that your current company discontinues the specific plan you own. Generally, you are notified between August and November, which allows you plenty of time to research and compare new available options with all carriers. You do not have to enroll in the substitute option recommended to you by your current insurer. We help you choose the best policy from all available options.
Also, if your employer decides they are no longer offering medical coverage to their employees (and perhaps paying the fine instead), of course you would have to obtain new benefits. This specific risk was lessened a bit when the federal government waived the requirement in 2014 for certain businesses to offer healthcare to its workers. However, in 2015 and 2016, we have seen many employers discontinue their worker's benefits, or cut weekly hours from 40 to 35 or less.
What Are The "Cost-Sharing Plans?
These are found under the "Silver" Metal category of policies and it's a relatively unknown perk you can easily qualify for. If you are receiving any portion of the subsidy, you may automatically qualify for special reductions to your deductibles and copays. The maximum reduction is offered when the family Federal Poverty Level is less than 150%. FPL levels less than 200% will generate the next biggest savings.
Thus, if you are purchasing a policy with a $2,500 deductible, it's conceivable that it may be reduced to $2,000. Or perhaps $1,500 or lower. And other projected expenses would also reduce. For example, copays on prescriptions, Urgent Care visits and Emergency-Room visits often reduce by as much s 50%. It's a great way to save money throughout the year, but only the Silver options feature this benefit. Also, in many situations, the Silver-tier options are more attractive than Gold-tier options.
March 2014 -- Open Enrollment officially ends in three weeks, unless another extension is provided. Once it ends, consumers can continue to apply for medical coverage, although official Exchange plans will not be available. Short-term and Limited-Benefit policies will be two types of options offered.
April 2014 -- A private Marketplace may be created for Va residents later this year. The Senate Finance committee has given its approval in the budget that will provide an alternative to expanding Medicaid. The House is expected to review and vote on the proposal. The new legislation would keep costs down by requiring a copay and possible payment of up to 5% of their income in insurance premiums.
November 2014 -- Emergency legislation was approved that will allow more than 200,000 residents to retain their existing plan, even if it does not meet ACA guidelines by not containing the required 10 "essential health benefits." For many households, the alternative would have meant having to purchase a more expensive unsubsidized policy. Now, they can keep their older policies (for now), that often provide the specific benefits they want.
December 2014 -- The Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services has awarded Virginia $2.6 million to help create an "Innovation Plan" that reduces the number of smokers, and increases coverage and treatment for mental illness. The grant is designed to help all residents, regardless of household income. Treatment of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular/respiratory diseases will also be a major focus.
The VCHI and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam will assist in the development of accountable delivery systems that should show positive results very quickly. Hospitals and other facilities will be rewarded if improvements can be verified.
June 2015 -- 2016 Virginia Marketplace rates will be increasing. But how much? We're getting an early look, as carriers have filed their requests with the Department of Insurance, who must approve the price changes. Listed below are a small sample of these proposed increases:
59.1% -- Aetna Small Group
58.8% -- Innovation Health Aetna Fee For Service IH Small Group
34.6% -- Time Individual Medical
25.5% -- Group Hospitalization and Medical Services BluePreferred Multi-State Plan
18.9% -- CoventryOne POS Individual
14.8% -- Optima Vantage Equity
14.5% -- HealthKeepers HMO Off-Exchange
September 2015 -- Dominion Dental Services, who offers Marketplace dental benefits, is purchasing multiple companies, including DentaQuest Management, DentaQuest Virginia, and DentaQuest Mid-Atlantic. Virginia policyholders that have coverage through DentalQuest will be allowed to continue with a plan without a lapse in benefits. Many Medicaid recipients also are their customers. Final details of the agreement should be completed by the end of December.