Costly Obamacare fraud (copy)

Open enrollment for plans on HealthCare.gov will run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. File/AP

Only one week remains before Obamacare open enrollment starts, and industry experts agree that many health insurance shoppers are confused. 

According to the results of a national Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly 30 percent of the general public and 40 percent of the uninsured public think that the federal law's "individual mandate" has been repealed or they aren't sure how the rule has changed. 

To be clear, it hasn't changed, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who hosted a web briefing on Tuesday about open enrollment in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. 

Congress has been debating the Affordable Care Act for the better part of a year, but the 2010 law still requires almost everyone to buy an insurance policy, she said. That won't change in 2018. People who fail to enroll in health coverage — either through work, through a public insurance program or through the individual marketplace — will be fined $695 or 2.5 percent of their household when they file taxes in 2019. 

And while some premiums in South Carolina will increase by 31 percent next year, Pollitz said most shoppers will continue to qualify for subsidies that lower their out-of-pocket costs. The level of those subsidies will adjust to the higher prices, she said. That hasn't changed, either.

Nov. 1 marks the beginning of the Affordable Care Act's fifth year of open enrollment, but Pollitz said "consumers may face more uncertainty, confusion and misinformation" than they did before the first-ever open enrollment window in 2013, when website problems plagued the new marketplace. 

"Most people don’t know when the upcoming open enrollment starts and ends," she said. "Consumers need to know these dates."

Open enrollment ends Dec. 15. Making sign-ups more difficult this year, the window to enroll in a 2018 plan is six weeks shorter than it was last year and the federal government already announced HealthCare.gov will be regularly taken down on Sunday mornings for maintenance between Nov. 1 and mid-December. 

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Shelli Quenga is the director of programs for the nonprofit Palmetto Project in South Carolina. Her group receives federal money to employ navigators, who are trained to help consumers shop for plans through HealthCare.gov. That grant was significantly cut earlier this year when the Trump administration slashed the federal government's budget for the navigator program. 

Quenga explained during the Kaiser Family Foundation web briefing Tuesday that the Palmetto Project had to lay off navigators this year. But she also said the Affordable Care Act is "still the law of the land" and said most South Carolinians who don't enroll in coverage next year will pay the price. They need to prioritize enrollment, she said. 

Some people in South Carolina, she said, are misinformed that the federal law doesn't apply here and that former Gov. Nikki Haley opted out of Obamacare. 

"We're still hearing some of that even today," Quenga said. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598. 

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