There are about 300,000 New Jersey residents who buy individual health insurance through the federal exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act.
After getting the go ahead from the Trump administration, the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy is transitioning to a New Jersey exchange. Ultimately that should result in coverage for many people who currently lack it.
The individual market is for people who buy their own health insurance. They don’t get it through their employer and earn too much (although not necessarily much money) to be eligible for Medicaid. They have this month and until Dec. 15 to buy a policy for 2020, still using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov this year.
Next year at this time, however, New Jersey will have its own exchange to sell such policies and may well extend the enrollment period, perhaps back to Obamacare’s original three months each fall.
Meanwhile Murphy is spending $3.1 million on the effort to find people who would benefit from the government program’s offering of private insurance plans and on helping them enroll. That is triple last year’s spending, with $1.5 million for an advertising campaign, $1.1 million to five organizations to provide enrollment assistance, and $500,000 in smaller grants to groups that assist in the process.
At the same time, moving to a hybrid federal and state process cost New Jersey the $300,000 it got last year from the federal government for enrollment assistance.
Those enrolling are finding that the cost for individual policies in New Jersey is 8.7% higher this year, even though ACASignups.net estimates that average rates across America are going up less than 1%. This is a bit misleading, however, since N.J. rates declined 9.3% last year.
That decrease was attributed to a state law imposing a monetary penalty on those who fail to get health coverage (replacing the repealed federal mandate and penalty) and establishing a federally funded reinsurance program for overall costs. Those were credited with stabilizing the N.J. market, and ACASignups estimated that otherwise N.J. rates would have gone up as much as 30%.
If health coverage costs are stabilizing, that would be great. Premiums on individual policies through the government exchanges increased by double digits annually from 2016 to 2018 — soaring 28 percent in 2018 alone. Research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that from 1999 to 2016, the share of household earnings spent on health insurance premiums doubled to 30%.
About two-thirds of individual policy buyers qualify for discounted plans, and most are eligible for federal subsidies to help with premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
For those who must pay for their own health coverage, however, the cost continues to be punishing.