General CBF

Navigating the healthcare open enrollment season

By Gary Skeen cbb4

Open enrollment is underway at the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchange for 2015. With a shorter enrollment period this year, the need for action without delay is important.

I’m sorry if I sound like a broken record, but if you or your church hasn’t yet started the conversation about health care coverage and options for next year, please take time to act today. Especially if you need a deacon’s vote, a committee meeting or any number of other approvals for your church to act, set the wheels in motion as soon as possible. With the holidays and other important events in the life of a church upcoming a delay could be costly, particularly if you want new coverage to start January 1.

I won’t however repeat all the information we have shared with you about the process. All of our ACA blogs are available here if you need a refresher course, or if you are unsure about the options.

One particular blog, Part 5, called How Do Churches Evaluate Their Healthcare Options, has a good comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of different coverage options and should help you and church members examine the church’s role in providing coverage or staying involved in the health of church staff.

We all like to window shop before we buy and I want to give you some tools that you can use to effectively do that in the healthcare marketplace.

A great tool to help you discover if you are eligible for subsidies is the Kaiser Family Marketplace Calculator. You may remember that subsidies are based upon your 2015 adjusted gross income and it does not include housing allowance. Part 3 of our blogs from last year can give you more information about the individual marketplace and subsidy eligibility.

Once you have determined eligibility, you may wish to compare plans without having to give up too much of your personal information and Health Sherpa is a great site for comparing marketplace plans. The site provides a list of qualified agents to help answer questions, a link to the exchange if you are eligible for premium assistance and links to the individual carriers for individuals that want to buy direct.

HealthCare.gov has made a lot of improvements in how you can compare plans before you commit to creating an account. Like Health Sherpa, HealthCare.gov now allows you to view plans without creating an account. This website is also a great resource in general healthcare education. You can simply type key words, phrases or questions in the search bar and you will be directed to a list of helpful information. You can also chat online with a representative or call to speak to a live rep.

HealthCare.gov is also where you can find information about SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program). Though there are no enrollment periods for group coverage, you would need to enroll before Dec 15 if your group doesn’t meet the required participation rate (generally 70% in most states). For more information on how SHOP coverage may benefit your church please read Part 4 in our blog series.

Finally, our long-time healthcare partner, WIA, is also assisting churches with additional resources to help you find the best coverage at the best rates through the commercial market. All of their recommendations will be based upon location of our church and size of group, so we can’t provide general information in a blog such as this. But, help is only a phone call away. Please call 1-800-352-8741 or email questions to churchbenefits@churchbenefits.org and we will respond as soon as possible. Your benefits are our ministry.

I’m going to end with key dates for ACA 2015:

  • November 15 — open enrollment begins.
  • December 15 — last day to enroll for coverage that starts on January 1, 2015.
  • December 31 — all 2014 Marketplace coverage ends.
  • February 15, 2015 — last day to enroll for individual Marketplace coverage for 2015


Gary Skeen is President of the Church Benefits Board, a ministry of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

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