Q. With Obamacare about to disappear, should I even bother to sign up for health insurance in 2017?
A. Yes, and here is why.
It’s true that both the U.S. Senate and the House have enacted budget resolutions that are the first step toward repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). But actual repeal could be many months or years down the road.
Congressional committees must draft actual legislation that must then pass in both houses of Congress and be signed by the president. And without 60 votes in the Senate, an unlikely prospect, parts of the law that don’t involve taxes or spending, such as the requirement that insurers sell policies to everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions, can’t be undone at all.
“They have not repealed Obamacare, and even the process they’ve put in motion would only repeal parts of it,” says JoAnn Volk, senior research fellow at the Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “They’ve not said what the time frames are, and more importantly, for people who’ve signed up for coverage, issuers have signed contracts and obligations for 2017.”
That means that for the time being, health insurance in the United States is working as usual. The health insurance marketplaces are up and running, subsidies are still available for people who qualify financially, and the requirement to have health insurance is still in effect.
Open enrollment for 2017 will last until Jan. 31. During this window you can either sign up for new coverage or switch out of the plan you already have. Changes to your coverage will take effect as of March 1. After that, you can’t enroll or change coverage unless you qualify for a special enrollment period by, for example, moving out of state or losing your job.
Regardless of the law’s uncertain future, you should sign up if you haven’t already. “Why go uninsured now because you might be uninsured in a year? That doesn’t make any sense,” says Timothy S. Jost, emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and an expert on the health reform law. “Get insured now, and if there’s anything that you need to have done, get it done right away.”
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the impact of the health-care proposals being introduced in Congress this year. You can weigh in by contacting your representative in the U.S. House or the Senate.
Nancy Metcalf is an award-winning independent journalist specializing in health topics. A senior writer and editor for Consumer Reports for more than 25 years, she is a nationally recognized expert on health insurance and health reform.