I would be the first to admit that 2017 has been a very confusing year for people who have to make decisions about health insurance.  Much has been made all year long about promise after promise from politicians across the political spectrum (including the president, who threatened to “let Obamacare collapse”) to repeal, replace, amend, tweak, repair, adjust or just plain fix “Obamacare.”

My fear is that after listening to a year of proposed changes and rumors, a lot of people will think something has changed. They may think that the individual mandate is gone, and they no longer face fines for not buying an insurance policy. Or that their insurance will somehow revert to the pricing and coverage it was before 2010. Or that they will finally get some relief from the runaway train of rate increases we’ve seen in the individual market since 2014.

And they are thinking all of that as we face the next Open Enrollment period, beginning Nov. 1, 2017.  And by the way, this period has been shortened for 2017; it ends Dec. 15, 2017.  This leaves you about six weeks to select your policy for 2018 and pay your first premium.

ACA Is Still In Effect
Straight Talk is: NOTHING HAS CHANGED! Nothing.  Nothing. Nothing has changed.

Remember that old saying, “Don’t believe any rumors until you hear them from me!”?  Well, today, you can take that to the bank.

Until and unless legislation that does otherwise becomes law, the ACA is still the law. That means you are still subject to the tax penalties included in it if you don’t have health insurance. And, all of the individual market health plans we and other insurers will sell in 2018 still need to meet the ACA’s health plan requirements.

It’s very important that everyone understands this, especially since we are getting ready for Open Enrollment.

Confusion in Communities
A recent story by Reuters recounted tons of interviews they did with ordinary Arizona residents. All too often, what they found was uncertainty and panic about health insurance.

In the middle of this confusion, the normal channels of communication for the lowest-income residents, which were mainly community outreach and grassroots education efforts with “navigators” who were funded through provisions of the ACA, have had their funding cut pretty drastically. And, their federal advertising budgets are slashed by 90 percent for 2018. This can’t help but have the effect of reducing public awareness about what the real deal is today.

Have I mentioned that nothing has changed?  But that same confusion is here, too.

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear Out There
I gave a speech a few weeks ago, talking to business groups about their reporting obligations under the ACA, the fines they face if they are not compliant, and strategies to make sure they avoid these crippling and unexpected expenses.

A very nice business owner, whom I’ve known for years, stood up and asked, “But Mike, you know Obamacare is repealed, right?  We don’t have to do any of this stuff anymore!” Even worse, more folks in the audience began nodding their heads and looking at me funny. Apparently the rumors and innuendo, or outright certainty that politicians have already done what they said they would do regarding repeal/replace/other are pretty intense.

So, I thought it incumbent on me to remind everyone – individuals, companies, public agencies, schools, governments, you name it – that whatever obligations you had under the ACA last year, and the year before, are STILL THERE.

Don’t let the disparate and confusing national conversations, media coverage or political promises knock you off course.

Nothing has changed.  The ACA is still the Law of the Land.

NOTE: On Oct. 6, the Trump administration issued a new rule rolling back the requirement that employer health policies cover birth control methods at no cost and allowing exemptions. Check with your employer’s Human Resources department to see how birth control is covered on your health plan.