U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tells Mic Readers Everything They Need to Know About Health Care Open Enrollment

AP

 The "Pass the Mic" series showcases voices, perspectives and ideas that spark interesting conversations. 

Are you covered for 2015? If you don’t have health insurance through your employer or the government, you have from now until Feb. 15 to shop for plans using the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. If you already have health insurance purchased through the exchanges, you can also shop for a better option and "re-enroll" until Monday, Dec. 15.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell recently talked to Mic about "open enrollment" — when individuals can compare and purchase health care plans through state-based or federal exchanges. There are 25% more health insurance issuers participating in the marketplace this year, according to Burwell, who urges young people to take advantage of plans that could potentially offer better coverage at a lower monthly premium.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
For any health insurance words you’re unsure about, check out the healthcare.gov glossary.

1. It's affordable

"This coverage is affordable and so many people can get financial assistance that brings the cost down. There’s a lot of competition in the marketplace right now. Last year, seven out of ten folks had paid $100 or less."

2. You'll get quality coverage

"You may be single or you may be married and have a family, but you can get the coverage that you need for you that is good and high quality. That's important to have because you never know. I had the chance to speak to a 27-year-old who got coverage on January 21, then was in the emergency room within a week and ended up having stomach cancer. So quality coverage is an important thing. Or, those athletes out there, the weekend warriors, in terms of those types of injuries and how costly a sprained ankle can be."

3. It's easy

"For 70% of those who are coming to the site to enroll in insurance, we've moved from 76 screens down to 16. For those who are returning [to healthcare.gov], we pre-populated it, so you don’t have to keep entering that name and address again and again for 90% of the information."

IF YOU HAVE INSURANCE ALREADY -- RE-ENROLL

"Open enrollment applies to both people who already have insurance in the marketplace and those who don’t. The re-enrollment portion is for those who already have coverage; for them to go back in and update your information, and shop and compare. The reason we want people to do that is because we know that for the vast majority of folks, they can actually find a better financial deal. They also may find a different plan that they think is a different set of benefits that they need."

"It’s so important for people to re-enroll. If you don’t re-enroll, you will automatically be enrolled in your old plan, but you may not have the best financial benefit both in terms of making sure your information is up-to-date, so you get the subsidies and the help you deserve or that you get the plan that is best for you financially. We want folks to do this by December 15."

HOW TO CHOOSE INSURANCE

"I encourage people to think about it in two buckets: the what-you-get, the benefits, and the what-you-pay, thinking about that in total cost."

"Different people have different priorities as they go in. [For] some people it’s about the type of benefits that they need. You know, up to 30 million 18-34 year olds already have pre-existing conditions. So for those folks, they would want to think about what the benefits package is to them. Then, you want to think about the financial parts. You should think about your total cost. Your total cost is your premium, your out-of-pocket which you pay in terms of co-pays, as well as your deductible."

"For anyone that wants to you can use window shopping, which is pretty easy to use. You just go in, you enter your zip code and your income, and then it’s a little like trying to get an airline flight. You can get it ordered by premium or if you want to get it ordered by the lowest deductible you can do that too. Don’t wait until the last minute."

WHERE TO SIGN UP

1. "There is healthcare.gov, which I think most folks know which is one way to do it. CuidadodeSalud.gov for those who are Spanish-speaking."

2. "There is an 1-800 number where there is a person at the other end of the line: 1-800-318-2596."

3. There is a site localhelp.healthcare.gov where you can go in, enter your zip code, and you can get personal assistance if that’s something you would like to have. Somebody will talk to you and walk you through it.

This year, we experienced a solid performance of the website. We know there will be times when things happen and we’ll work quickly to deal with it. This focus on the customer is something that we are deeply doing, so that’s one thing that is different [from last year] and we’ve tried to make it easier to use mobile.

This interview has been condensed and edited.