Open Enrollment Begins Amid Confusion Over Obamacare

David Branch, left, a navigator with Insure Georgia, helps Karen Gilmore sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Wednesday.

Open enrollment for people getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act started Wednesday, but months of attempts to repeal Obamacare in Washington has left some Georgians confused about what’s still available.

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Sitting outside of a Starbucks in Southwest Atlanta, David Branch with Insure Georgia meets with 64-year-old Karen Gilmore to help her sign up for health insurance. Branch is what’s called a “navigator,” someone who helps people enroll for health coverage in the federal marketplace exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

Gilmore is his first enrollee for the day — and for the open enrollment period that ends next month. She said before meeting with up with Branch, she had a lot of questions about the Affordable Care Act as Congress spent months trying to repeal it.

“I was just unsure about what was going to be available to me, or how it would affect me, because I tried to follow everything that was going on, but it was a little confusing,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore isn’t alone. Branch says one big challenge this enrollment period is letting people know that Obamacare still exists.

“That’s been a consistent question,” Branch said. “I’ve been greeted by a few people that said, ‘Why am I even out here because it’s over?’ – So, it’s just public perception.”

But navigators like Branch have less resources this year. The Trump administration has cut funding for navigator groups like Insure Georgia. The group lost more than 80 percent of its $2.3 million budget, causing the organization to cut its from 43 people to about 15 people, Branch said.

The Trump administration earlier this year said it was also also cutting the ACA’s advertising budget.

“If you can’t market your whole business and your events, it’s like, how do you be be successful in the community?” Branch said.

But in the case of Gilmore, Branch was successful. As he clicked through pages on his computer screen, the result showed Gilmore would get the same silver-plan coverage she got last year, and with tax subsidies, will pay even less per month than she did last year.

“It makes me feel good, it really does,” she said.

Branch, who next year can qualify for Medicare, said she was concerned about what would happen if Obamacare had been repealed.

“I guess I would have prayed and crossed my fingers that my health held up until I was eligible for Medicare, which would be almost eight months,” she said.

But Branch acknowledges not every case will be this straightforward. There are fewer plans in the market for individuals in the Atlanta area buying through the marketplace exchange, as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia pulled out of the market.

The enrollment period this year is also shorter this year, ending in mid-December. Branch said he and other navigators with Insure Georgia will be working seven days a week until then.

“There’s still tax credits available, the ACA is still the law of the land,” he said. “It’s not here to stay forever, but for right now, people need to get out there and get what they can get while they can get it.”