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Inside Bulloch Business with DeWayne Grice - Advice for those buying ACA insurance
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               Open enrollment for individual healthcare begins Wednesday. The enrollment period has been shortened to just 45 days and ends on December 15. This is important for anyone purchasing health insurance on or off the Affordable Care Act exchange.
        There are few things more completely beyond the control of a small businesses owner or self-employed individual than healthcare, which has a great impact on the business. Being healthy and having a healthy workforce is very important to the success of any business.
        There is so much confusion surrounding the ACA, open enrollment and health insurance this year that I wanted to devote my column this week to help you understand what is happening.
        Many people think that the mandate to buy health insurance is no longer in effect. This is not true. Individuals who do not have health insurance provided through an employer must purchase health insurance or they will be required to pay a penalty at the end of the year when they file their taxes.
        In many parts of Georgia, there is only one carrier offering insurance coverage in the market. Bulloch County is one of those counties with only one carrier, which is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia.
        Because of lack of competition and President's Trump executive order to stop paying for cost sharing reductions, which are required by the law, those costs are now passed on to the consumer through higher rates.
        Georgia's Insurance Commissioner, Ralph Hudgens, a vocal opponent of healthcare reform, approved a 57.5 percent rate increase for Blue Cross, making Georgia one of the most expensive places to buy healthcare in the nation.
        Financial assistance in the form of tax subsidies remain in place and will increase to cover the increased rates for many, but not all, Georgian's buying individual health care.
        According to Georgia Healthy Future, 90 percent of Georgians getting their insurance through the ACA exchange are eligible for a subsidy to assist with the increased rates. Individuals with incomes up to 400 percent of poverty, which is $48,240, can qualify for subsidies to help pay for premiums.
        The highest income and lowest income individuals will be hit the hardest this year by the executive order and the consistent push to destroy the ACA with no viable options for replacement. Because Georgia did not expand Medicaid, individuals who make less than $12,060 are not eligible for any financial assistance to help them purchase healthcare. The same is true for individuals making more than $48,240.
        It is projected that because of these staggering rate increases, Georgia will see a major decline in individuals covered by healthcare in 2018. Rural counties like ours, will be impacted the hardest. We have already seen a 36-percent decline in health coverage in rural counties in Georgia because of the limited choice of insurers and the rise in premiums.
        Log on to www.healthcare.gov and window shop for plans and rates now. I would encourage you to contact a local insurance agent who is familiar with plans and networks to help you navigate the very complex and confusing health insurance market.
        The most important advice: Do not procrastinate!
        Also, do not assume that what you have is fine and do nothing. If you do nothing, the ACA will automatically select a plan for you, which may not be the best option in coverage or price. However, you will be locked in that plan for the entire year. December 15 is the last day you can purchase individual health insurance for 2018 through the ACA Exchange.

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