Surprise! 2019 ACA Open Enrollment has already started for 12% of the population!

Yes, that's right...while the 2019 Open Enrollment Period doesn't start for the rest of the country until November 1st, the Golden State has decided to kick things off two weeks early (16 days early, technically): Covered California, the largest state-based ACA exchange, is officially open for business for 2019 enrollment as of today!

In addition, while you can't actually enroll for 2019 coverage in any other state until November 1st, in several states you can window shop to find out what your 2019 policy options and pricing will be, along with estimates about what sort of financial assistance you'll qualify for once you actually do go through the enrollment process.

The states which are already open for window shopping already include:

 As far as I can tell, the other five state-based exchanges (DC, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington State), along with HealthCare.Gov (which hosts the remaining 39 states) are not open for 2019 window shopping yet, although I expect all of them will have the shopping/financial aid tools available shortly before November 1st.

I normally wait until closer to Nov. 1st to post these tips, but with California kicking things off early I figured I should as well:

  • Like the 2018 Open Enrollment Period, many states will have unusual pricing for some plans. Normally you'd expect premiums to increase as you go up the metal tier (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum), but if you qualify for federal financial aid in the form of premium tax credits, you might find Gold plans which cost the same or even less than Silver plans, and you may even be able to get Bronze plans for no monthly premium at all (although they may still have a large deductible attached)!
  • Even if nothing changes about your household (number of dependents, annual income, etc), you may find that your financial assistance situation has changed year over year. There are many reasons for this including changes in the benchmark Silver policy used to determine the tax credit formula, but also because the Federal Poverty Line increases each year. In 2017, 100% FPL was $11,880 for a single-person household. In 2018 it's $12,060. In 2019, it will incerase slightly to $12,140. Since the ACA tax credit cut-off point is 400% FPL, that means you can earn up to $320 more in 2019 ($48,560) and still just barely qualify for tax credits. For a family of 4, 400% FPL is increasing from $98,400 to $100,400...a $2,000 threshold increase.
  • That 400% FPL income threshold can mean the difference between receiving thousands of dollars in financial aid...or not. For 2019, if the cost of the Benchmark Silver plan in your region costs more than 9.86% of your household income, you'll receive tax credits equal to the difference between that amount and the unsubsidized price...but again, only up to 400% FPL.

    For instance, let's say you're a single adult, no kids, and your 2019 modified adjusted gross income is exactly $48,560 (just barely below the cut-off). Let's say the Benchmark Silver plan costs $600/month, or $7,200 for the year. That's 14.8% of your MAGI. 9.86% of your MAGI is $4,788, so you'd receive $2,412 in tax credits, or $201/month. HOWEVER, if your MAGI for 2019 ends up being $48,561...even one dollar more than the 400% FPL receive nothing at all in financial assistance. This is called the Subsidy Cliff, and it's one of the most obvious and easiest-to-fix problems of the ACA.

That's why it's extremely important to shop around!