It's Still On: Sign Up for Health Coverage

Editor's Note:  Since this article was published, the Healthcare.Gov exchange extended the insurance application deadline from 12/15/16 until 11:59 p.m. on 12/19/16.  If you haven't signed up yet, or wish to cancel your 2017 plan and choose another, you have until 12/19/16 to do so. 

As the holidays approach and plans take shape for celebrations with family and friends, don’t forget the new tradition of enrolling in health insurance coverage for the coming year.

The Health Insurance Marketplace, now in its fourth year, is open for business, and it offers 12 health plan options for residents of Kansas City, Mo., and 17 options for people living on the Kansas side of the metro area.

Just as in previous years, you can’t be turned down because of an existing illness or health condition. And financial help available from the Marketplace means that more than two-thirds of consumers in Missouri and Kansas can find a health plan for less than $75 a month.

Since this year’s open enrollment period began Nov. 1, more than 2.1 million people have signed up for 2017 health insurance coverage, including more than 86,000 people in Missouri and Kansas. The law has been especially important to the LGBTQ community, where the uninsured rate fell by nearly half within two years after the Health Insurance Marketplace opened.

All these benefits are the result of the 2010 health reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act. Today, however, many people who rely on the health coverage that the law makes available are worried. Recent political rhetoric questioning the future of the law under a new president has triggered concerns about next year’s coverage.

It is true that a new Congress will face a choice: Build on the progress that has been made, or take back the protections and advancements that people depend on. But until changes in the law are made, the Affordable Care Act is the law, and it is part of the fabric of our nation.

Financial help for people of modest incomes is still in place. The law still requires insurance to cover, without cost to the patient, certain preventive care, such as cancer, HIV and STI screenings.

With the advent of nationwide marriage equality, no married couple can be denied access to family insurance plans. Rules are still in place that prohibit medical providers from denying treatment to LGBTQ patients. And hospitals are still prohibited from refusing to put a patient into a room that fits that patient’s gender identity.

Clearly, significant progress has been made. More LGBTQ people have health insurance than ever before. Yet LGBTQ people are still more likely than straight people to be uninsured. It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities the law offers by enrolling in coverage.

You have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage effective Jan. 1, and until the end of January to enroll in coverage starting later in the year. In the Kansas City area, you can get an appointment for free, in-person enrollment help by calling the United Way helpline at 2-1-1.

Don’t let the present political uncertainty discourage you from getting covered. As Winston Churchill said, “The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope.”

Rather than be frightened of what might happen in the future, we can speak up now.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently launched an effort on social media to spread the word about what access to affordable coverage means to real people. Tell us your story on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #CoverageMatters.

We want to hear from many of the more than 120 million Americans who have pre-existing conditions – cancer survivors, people with HIV and diabetes, people with asthma – who can no longer be locked out of coverage.

With #CoverageMatters, you can make your voice heard and join the voices of Americans in small towns and cities across the country. Share the hashtag with your friends and family. Together, we can tell America why #CoverageMatters.

Stephene Moore is the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She serves Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska from the department’s offices in Kansas City, Mo.

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