Open enrollment for the 2015 New York individual market season is right around the corner. Below are answers to commonly asked questions pertaining to individual market coverage for residents of New York State:

Q: What is the New York State of Health (NYSOH) exchange website?
A: NYSOH provides NYS residents living between 139%-400% of the Federal Poverty Level, access to lower cost health insurance by supplying them with tax credit premium subsidies. Additional Cost Sharing subsidies are available to those living between 139%-250% of the FPL. All subsidy programs are subject to eligibility requirements. Additionally, NYSOH is where individuals can enroll in Medicaid (for those living below 139% of the FPL).

Q: Is the NYSOH government health insurance? Is that what “Obamacare” means?
A: No. Individual health insurance is a relationship between a consumer, and a private health insurance company. NYOSH slips in between this relationship by forwarding tax credit money to the carrier on behalf of the subsidy-eligible consumer, and then the carrier bills the consumer for the difference in premium owed. “Obamacare” is simply the nickname of the new health insurance law, which (in part) assists individuals in obtaining health insurance.

Q: Do I have to have health insurance?
A: Yes. As part of the individual mandate, all US citizens must enroll in Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance…be it through your employer, the individual market, Medicare, or Medicaid. Citizens not enrolled in coverage will be fined by the IRS (less those who qualify for exemptions).

Q: What is the fine for not having health insurance?
A: For most people in 2015, the fine will be 2% of household income per uninsured month. In 2016, this increases to 2.5% of household income per uninsured month.

Q: Do I have to enroll in individual coverage through NYSOH?
A: No. Only people in need of tax credit subsidy assistance must enroll through the NYSOH exchange website.

Q: What if I don’t earn enough income to qualify for subsidy assistance for on-exchange health plans?
A: People in NY living below 139% of the FPL will be eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid enrollments are conducted on the NYSOH website.

Q: If I am over the subsidy income limit threshold, how do I apply for coverage outside of the NYSOH website?
A: You can enroll directly with a carrier, or, by contacting a licensed insurance broker for assistance. Off-exchange carrier applications are extremely simplified, requiring only a 1-2 page paper/PDF application to be completed in most cases, and with no government intervention.

Q: Can brokers assist me with my individual coverage written through the NYSOH website as well?
A: Yes. Licensed brokers, who are also certified to write health plans on the exchange, can be found in the Broker directory on the NYSOH website. You can search using a specific broker’s first and last name, by selecting a specific Agency from the drop down list, or you can enter your ZIP Code to find one in your region.

Q: Do brokers charge fees for helping me secure an individual health plan?
A: Brokers are not allowed to charge fees for assisting individuals with writing their health insurance.

Q: How do brokers get paid?
A: Every time you pay your health insurance bill, a portion of your payment is allocated towards compensating a broker (just like with your auto or homeowners insurance). Most carriers pay broker commissions on the back end, which is completely transparent to the consumer. If no broker is utilized by the consumer, the carrier retains the commission. This means that whether you use a broker or not, you’ll be paying for one anyway.

Q: Don’t Navigators already provide these broker services?
A: No. Sometimes referred to as “in person assistors” or “experts” by the NYSOH, Navigators are not licensed to write health insurance. They are trained employees or contracted agencies of the NYS government (funded by Federal grant money) to help individuals navigate the enrollment process on the NYSOH website only. They are not required by federal law to undergo criminal background checks, nor are they licensed by the NYS Department of Financial Services, which means they cannot make plan recommendations to health insurance consumers.

Q: Can a certified broker process my NYSOH enrollment for me?
A: Yes. Brokers that are certified to write business on the NYSOH exchange website can drive the entire online enrollment process for the consumer. You just need to authorize a broker through your NYSOH account by logging in, and then clicking “Find a Navigator/Broker” towards the bottom left side of your NYSOH account home page. Once authorized, the broker you have selected will receive an email from the NYSOH that you are in need of assistance, and can now enroll you on your behalf.

Q: When can I enroll in individual health insurance?
A: Like Medicare, the individual health insurance market is setup to have an open enrollment season. The individual market open enrollment window is from 11/15/14 through 2/15/15.

Q: Can I enroll in coverage outside of the open enrollment season?
A: Consumers can enroll in individual coverage outside the open enrollment season so long as a “Qualifying Life Event” exists. Examples of such events include the loss of a job, marriage, divorce, birth of a child, a change in subsidy eligibility, and others. Written proof of the QLE will be required when enrolling outside of the open enrollment season as established by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Q: If I am subsidy eligible, and my income changes, what do I do?
A: Consumers enrolled through the exchange who receive tax credits must notify the NYSOH Marketplace whenever a change of income is experienced. You can contact the marketplace call center at 855-355-5777 to update your income information.

Q: Am I limited to certain insurance companies if I am subsidy-eligible?
A: No. Consumers who are subsidy-eligible may pick any plan they wish that is available on the NYSOH exchange website. However, subsidy-eligible individuals may not apply those tax credits towards health plans written outside of the NYSOH website (for example, Oxford Liberty plans, which are only available outside of the NYSOH Marketplace).

Q: I have completed the income portion of my on-exchange application, and I’m now ready to pick a plan. How can I find out more specific information pertaining to the available options in the market?
A: A licensed insurance broker can help you understand the available health plans in the market, and can make plan recommendations specific to your needs and financial situation.

Q: I started my current individual plan in July 2014. Do I have to renew my plan on January 1st 2015?
A: Yes. All individual market plans have calendar year deductible and maximum out of pocket accumulation periods, which resets on January 1st of any given year. So for example, if you lost your job (and your health insurance) effective 12/1/14, and then you enroll for individual coverage effective 12/1/14, you must renew your individual plan the following month (for 1/1/15) at the new carrier plan structures and rates.

Q: I already have individual market based health insurance. Can I change plans during the open enrollment season?
A: Yes. Existing individual health insurance policyholders may change their plan during the open enrollment season. You may also change carriers should you wish to find a better solution for your needs. Talk to your licensed insurance broker about the available plan options in the market for 2015.

Q: My employer is offering me a health plan that I am not interested in. Can I waive my employer health plan and replace it with an individual plan, and receive tax credit subsidy assistance?
A: The answer to the first part of the question is yes. Employees can choose to opt out of employer-sponsored health insurance, and can replace their coverage in the individual market.

With regards to receiving tax credit subsidies in these situations, yes, an individual can receive tax credit subsidies to help pay the cost of individual health insurance. However, in addition to the employee needing to meet tax credit eligibility requirements as discussed earlier, one of two additional conditions must be met to be eligible to receive subsidy assistance: 1) The employer’s health plan does not meet the minimum actuarial value of 60%, or 2) The employee’s single rate cost (self-only coverage, no dependents) for employer-sponsored coverage exceeds 9.5% of their household adjusted gross income (defined as “unaffordable” under the health care law).

Q: I’m applying for a tax credit subsidy. How do I determine my adjusted gross income?
A: Your adjusted gross income can be found on line 37 of your 1040 tax return. Subsidy applicants who have a steady income can use this figure as a guide when determining tax credit eligibility for the upcoming tax year.

Those that do not have a steady income (e.g. sole proprietors, freelancers, single-person businesses, etc.) should speak with their accountants to determine their estimated adjusted gross income for the upcoming tax year.

Q: I was determined Medicaid eligible after applying for tax credit subsidy on the NYSOH website. However, my doctors do not take Medicaid. Can I opt out of medicaid and get a subsidized individual health plan instead?
A: You may choose to opt out of Medicaid if you wish. However, those who are Medicaid eligible will not qualify for tax credit subsidies for individual health plans. You can enroll in a health plan, but you must pay the full price of the plan.

Q: I was determined subsidy eligible, and I want to pick a plan to enroll in through the NYSOH website. Can I put my children on my health plan with my spouse and I?
A: No. Those who are subsidy eligible must insure their dependent children through a Child Health Plus plan. CHP (or “chip”) plans are selected during the plan check out process at the end of the NYSOH application. Only the applicant and spouse will qualify for a private health plan with subsidy assistance. If you choose to opt your children out of CHP, you and your spouse will lose subsidy eligibility for your private health plan.

Q: How can I find out if my doctors take a particular health plan?
A: Your licensed insurance broker can provide you with carrier-specific tools to look up providers in particular networks.

Q: Are there any PPO based plans available to downstate NY residents?
A: No. There are currently no PPO based individual plans available to residents living in the downstate NY area. Only in network plans are currently available.

Q: How can I get a copy of the full benefit summary for a particular health plan I’m interested in?
A: Your licensed insurance broker can provide you with electronic benefit summaries for most health plans upon request.

Q: How can I find a licensed broker to assist me?
A: Licensed insurance brokers, and who are also certified to write on-exchange plans, can be found in the Broker directory on the NYSOH website. You can search using a specific broker’s first and last name, by selecting a specific Agency from the drop down list, or you can enter your ZIP Code to find one in your region.