SHERIDAN — With open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act marketplace now open, local organizations have organized events to help individuals navigate the system and its changes.

The Sheridan Health Center will host an open enrollment event for the federal health insurance exchanges at the Whitney Lounge of the Sheridan YMCA on Monday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Enroll Wyoming will also host an event Wednesday at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library from 4:30-8:30 p.m.

Those planning to attend either event for assistance are asked to bring an estimate of their annual income to help determine eligibility and which policy fits them best.

“With health insurance open enrollment upon us, I encourage all consumers to make the most informed decisions possible and focus on the coverage options that best suit their financial and health situation,” said Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Glause.

The cost of insurance depends on family size, income and location, so individuals must check the options available. This year, BlueCross BlueShield is the only insurer in Wyoming selling plans on the ACA Marketplace, which may be accessed at www.healthcare.gov.

It’s not easy navigating enrollment and changes in the Affordable Care Act right now.

The Trump administration has taken numerous steps to undermine the law, and many states are doing little to promote coverage as health insurance open enrollment begins this week. The Trump administration has slashed marketing budgets completely in some areas, and shortened the sign-up period from 12 weeks to six. Across the country, Trump cut spending on health care counselors, or navigators, by roughly 40 percent, from $62.5 million to $36.8 million, and reduced advertising from $100 million spent last year to $10 million, according to federal health officials.

Many health care advocacy groups are scrambling to fill in the gaps and combat misinformation, helping people decide which insurance policies are best for them and encouraging them to act quickly during the tight enrollment period of Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. 

Wendy Ongaro, executive director of the Sheridan Health Center, said last month that if the ACA were to be repealed without a replacement plan in place, approximately 1,400 individuals in Sheridan County would lose their health insurance coverage. She also pointed out that there are about 750 low-income adults who cannot get any health insurance because they are not eligible for Medicaid and do not make enough of an income to qualify for tax subsidies for the ACA marketplace.

According to healthinsurance.org, during the 2017 open enrollment period, 24,826 people enrolled in coverage through the Wyoming Health Insurance exchange, a 4 percent increase over the 23,770 people who enrolled in 2016.

Glause offered advise for those looking for health insurance through the ACA marketplace:

• Compare all costs, not just the premiums. Glause advised consumers to look at deductibles, co-insurance, co-pays and maximum out of pocket amounts to determine the total cost of a plan, based on your health and anticipated use of services. Glause also suggested individuals ensure their preferred providers and medications are covered by the specific plan being considering. Licensed Agents and Brokers, ACA Navigators and Assistors, and Department of Insurance staff can help with this.

• Don’t wait until the last minute — start now. Open enrollment is just six weeks and new plans must be purchased by Dec. 15 to have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2018, and to avoid having a tax penalty. Look at your options, ask questions, choose a plan, complete an application and (if applicable) update financial and household information on the website at www.healthcare.gov as soon as possible to avoid encountering a bottleneck as open enrollment comes to a close on Dec. 15.

There are a number of resources available to consumers looking for health care, including the local events that will feature individuals who can help answer questions.

Those looking for health care through the marketplace or with other questions during the open enrollment period can reach a marketplace navigator or assister by calling Wyoming 211. The Wyoming Department of Insurance can also answer questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The department can be reached by calling 1-800-438-5768 or 307-777-7401.