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Column

Oliver: Open enrollment decisions can resemble being stuck in a maze

A lot of us aren’t big fans of being lost. Sure, some of us enjoy the adventure of being in an unfamiliar place. However, that’s not me.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a control freak. I like knowing exactly where I am, exactly what options I have and having enough information to make an intelligent and reasoned decision.

Perhaps that’s why this time of year is so excruciatingly uncomfortable for me. It’s the time when two words strike fear into my heart and now doubly so: Open enrollment.

Yes, it’s time again to get onto the health insurance marketplace to choose a plan for 2018 under the Affordable Care Act. Contrary to a lot of what I’ve been hearing, I did get an email from the federal government that it was time to choose a plan.

For those who are going to use the marketplace for the first time, yes, the enrollment period is shorter, ending Dec. 15. So it’s important to get moving.

This will be the third go-around for me in the marketplace, which can be accessed at www.healthcare.gov. The first time was a bit overwhelming, I have to admit. I’d always had my health insurance through my employer, so I didn’t have to give too much thought to things such as deductibles and co-payments.

Happily, I have a good friend who is conversant in all things insurance, and she graciously walked me through it the first time.

Last year, I decided to try to go it alone and just sent her a text to confirm what she had told me previously about the strategy to use in my case. My original plan was not being offered, and the choices I had were all for a lot more money. So I shopped around and did some analyzing and finally settled on something.

That was all fine and good until the insurer I selected, Land of Lincoln, folded. So it was back to the marketplace to find another plan.

This year, as I would have predicted, I’ll have to find yet another new plan. The replacement plan for the Land of Lincoln option is not being offered again. Whee!

If that weren’t enough, Team Oliver is experiencing another new wrinkle. My husband is now Medicare eligible. It’s also the open enrollment period for that, too. That has a slightly different timeframe. Those plans must be selected by Dec. 7.

Just when I thought I had developed a certain level of understanding of the marketplace, now I have to become knowledgeable of Medicare supplemental, advantage and drug plans, as well as Medicare Parts A and B.

This time, I decided to get some help from the Senior Health Insurance Program, which offers counselors to walk Medicare-eligible folks through the choices they have to make. The program is free for Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers. More information about the program can be found on the state’s website, www.illinois.gov, under the Department on Aging. There are several sites in McHenry County where help is available.

The counselor I spoke with, Sarah, was a great help. Still, I have to admit that I still feel overwhelmed at the prospect of shopping around for yet another health insurance plan.

Maybe with a little more studying I can crack the code on this one, too. Because I’m really not a fan of being lost.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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