If you want to have Obamacare coverage starting Jan. 1, 2017, then the deadline is Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 in most states—and experts are encouraging people to sign up despite the uncertainty over the law's future. (For coverage that begins later, the final Obamacare open enrollment deadline is Jan. 31, 2017.)
The fate of President Obama's signature health care law has been much discussed, now that Republicans will control the legislative and executive branches of government. President-elect Donald Trump has said that repealing the Affordable Care Act will be one of his top priorities as Commander-in-Chief.
Still, Peter Claude, a health care industry advisory partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says those who purchase an individual health plan via healthcare.gov or the other exchanges will likely see no change in their coverage next year, as such a major overhaul will take longer to implement.
"There’s no expectation that there is a significant change to insurance over 2017," says Claude. For example, your insurer couldn't just opt out of covering birth control in the middle of the year. (Read more on how women's health care could change under President Trump.)
Premiums are already locked in for the coming year, according to a report from the Urban Institute. While theoretically insurers could request a price change mid-year if the individual mandate is nixed and a ton of people drop coverage, it is unlikely to be approved. "Rates are more or less locked in for 2017," says Cynthia Cox, associate director of health reform and private insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The individual mandate is also still in effect for 2017. So you need to have health insurance of some sort—whether an Obamacare plan, employer coverage, or an independent policy—or you will pay a fine.
Even premium subsidies—which 85% of marketplace customers are eligible for or are receiving—are likely to stay in place for now, Cox says. "Several congressional Republicans have expressed a desire to maintain stability in the Obamacare markets for at least 2017, and it would be impossible for a replacement plan to start in 2017, so I think it is very unlikely that the markets or the subsidies would be shut down this year," she says.
In fact, big changes could take even longer. Republicans have not coalesced around a single repeal and replacement plan, Cox notes. The current Republican plans being floated indicate a full repeal would take about three years to complete, as GOP lawmakers grapple with how to dismantle a program through which nearly 30 million Americans receive health insurance. There is also no consensus on a replacement plan.
What that means, say experts: Go ahead and sign up now -- and do so before Thursday's deadline, if you'll need coverage at the start of the year. (You can shop for Obamacare plans at healthcare.gov; use Money's tips to pick the best Obamacare plan for you.) "My take is that if the plans under the Affordable Care Act still make sense to you, there’s nothing we’ve seen that says you shouldn’t go ahead with it," Claude says.
Cox adds, "I understand there is a lot of uncertainty right now, but people need to decide whether to sign up for coverage based on their current needs and the current law."
What happens in 2018, however, is anyone's guess.