HOUSTON - Enrollment is now open for the Affordable Care Act health insurance plans. But watch out. Researchers say misleading marketing is duping consumers into signing up for non-ACA plans that may not cover your needs.
President Biden's American Rescue Plan expanded subsidies to millions of more people for ACA coverage through 2022. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports four of five people can get coverage for $10 or less per month.
But researchers warn many consumers are being duped into buying alternative plans that can stick them with high medical bills.
The Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms posed as secret shoppers, two women who qualified for subsidies for Affordable Care Act health insurance. They did what many people do. They Googled.
"Everyone could Google words like cheap insurance or Obamacare or even healthcare.gov and were sent to other sites, and were sold plans that wouldn’t provide adequate coverage and often cost them more money," said research professor JoAnn Volk.
Alternatives that they say don't cover much.
"Some were short-term plans, which are these things that don’t last a full year, don’t cover a lot of essential services. Some are called fixed indemnity. They only pay a per-day amount toward your coverage, so you’re left with covering the balance," explained Volk.
And that balance can be big.
"One offered to cover $1,000 a day in hospital care. That sounds like a lot, but in fact, the average cost of hospital care in Texas is about $2,600," said Volk.
If you want an ACA plan, go directly to Healthcare.gov.
You can enter your zipcode on the site to find a certified broker that can help you choose the best plan for your needs. You'll need to know your doctors, prescriptions, and health issues.
"Do you tend to just have a few doctor visits a year? Or are you a heavy user of healthcare where you know you’re going to meet your maximum out-of-pocket?" suggested Louise Norris with independent health insurance guide HealthInsurance.org.
Be sure to choose based on which plan will cover your needs, not just the lowest premium.
"You don’t just want to pick the cheapest plan because that might end up costing you more in the long run. You're going to want to look at the deductibles. Look at the total out-of-pocket costs," said Norris.
ACA enrollment for 2022 runs through January 15.