Less expensive health insurance options

Many Americans can’t get the lower-cost health insurance they want and can’t afford the Obamacare insurance they can get.

Luckily, part of that is changing. The Trump administration has pushed through several rules changes designed to increase health insurance access for millions of Americans. Think of this as the triumph of personal choice over government diktat.

Major changes for people who’ll soon be shopping for 2019 health insurance include:
The rise of association health plans will allow more small businesses and other groups of employers to band together nationally and offer lower-cost insurance that isn’t forced to abide by the extensive Obamacare coverage mandates. Lower administrative costs, better tailored coverage and larger pools of people signing up should yield savings.

The role of cheaper short-term plans will expand. Federal officials estimate that 600,000 Americans will sign up for these plans for 2019, which offer fewer benefits than traditional Obamacare. Under previous rules, the plans could last only for three months. Under the new rules, people can stay on these plans for up to 12 months, renewable for another 24 months. Eventually, the administration says, about 1.6 million Americans will take advantage of these plans, although we won’t be surprised if the number gets much bigger over time.

Unfortunately, this boon for people who want basic coverage may not fully apply in Illinois. In May, Illinois lawmakers approved a bill that would impose a six-month limit on short-term plans, an apparent attempt to steer people into pricier Obamacare coverage. Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn’t yet signed or vetoed that bill. Whatever the Springfield machinations, we’re in favor of letting people choose the coverage they want at the price they can afford. Limited coverage is better than none.

Obamacare defenders oppose these and other coverage changes. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall recently joined several other cities and groups suing the Trump administration for “intentionally and unlawfully sabotaging” Obamacare. They claim that the Trump rules on association plans, short-term limits and other changes will increase costs of Obamacare plans and thus add to the ranks of uninsured Americans. But remember, many younger, healthier and working class people have resolutely shunned the fuller-service Obamacare plans because they cost too much.

Obamacare open enrollment starts Nov. 1. We’ll soon discover how many people will ditch traditional Obamacare coverage for the limited-term policies or those offered by businesses or associations. Just as we’ll soon discover how many people who’ve had no insurance for years will gravitate to the new, lower-cost options.

Our advice to those customers and anyone else seeking health insurance: Pay attention to the details. Customers who sign up for so-called bare-bones or catastrophic coverage should know the risks of skimpier benefits. Depending on the policy and on state regulations, these customers may not be covered for what insurers determine are pre-existing conditions or for certain illnesses. They may face lifetime caps on benefits. People will need to explore their choices and figure out if the lower price is worth the risk. That said, some people are content to pay their routine medical costs; they want to buy the relatively inexpensive catastrophic insurance that will protect them from major expenses.
These changes won’t impale Obamacare. But they will open more health insurance choices for Americans who seek coverage they can afford.

— CHICAGO TRIBUNE