How Obamacare’s Progress Makes Expanding Coverage Harder

Originally posted July 21, 2014 by Drew Altman on

The Affordable Care Act’s success meeting its initial enrollment goals and the repair of seem to have calmed the political waters for Obamacare. But the job of enrolling the uninsured gets harder, not easier, because the remaining uninsured will generally be tougher to reach.

Recent surveys show, roughly in line with expectations, that 8 million to 9.5 million fewer adults are uninsured compared with last year before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. Specific data are not yet available for uninsured children who probably got covered as well, and an earlier provision of the health-care law that allowed people to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26 is thought to have lowered the number of uninsured young adults by as many as 3 million.

But tens of millions of Americans are not yet covered.

Those who enrolled last year during the first open-enrollment season were more likely to want coverage and were best able to navigate the process to get it. After open enrollment this fall and the one after that, the uninsured will gradually become a smaller and different group. Increasingly, they will be people who have been without insurance for a long time or who have never had it; people who are even less familiar with insurance choices and components such as premiums and deductibles, as well as unfamiliar with the tax credits offered under the ACA. These people are more likely to be men, and minorities, and have limited education or language barriers. Increasingly they will fall into harder-to-reach high-risk groups, such as the homeless, who require very targeted outreach, and Hispanics who fear that seeking coverage could endanger undocumented relatives despite assurances from government that it will not.

On the plus side for the next open-enrollment season, many of the remaining uninsured waited out the first year but want insurance; a group of unknown size has been waiting to enroll this fall. Also, the penalties for not having insurance rise from the greater of $95 per adult or 1% of income this year to $325 or 2% of income next year. That is likely to motivate more of the remaining uninsured to enroll. Early studies show that the uninsured who have attained coverage are happy with what they got, and news will spread through family, friends and word of mouth to people who are uninsured, motivating some of them to seek coverage too.

As the job of reaching the uninsured gets tougher, the need will grow for targeted community-based outreach and enrollment services and, most of all, a realization that the remaining uninsured are a somewhat different group presenting new challenges.

Major work needed before enrollment

Originally posted July 10, 2014 by Kathryn Mayer on

The fall open enrollment period needs some major work, as new analysis out Thursday finds low satisfaction and little results, with many consumers remaining “uninsured and underserved,” after the first shopping experience in the exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Act.

The inaugural J.D. Power 2014 Health Insurance Marketplace Shopper Study, which looked at enrollment satisfaction among more than 1,600 consumers who shopped for coverage under PPACA November 2013 through April 2014, found that satisfaction during the first signup period averaged 615 on a 1,000-point scale.

The results indicate that health plans need to “retool” their efforts ahead of 2015 open enrollment, which begins Nov. 15.

“No doubt that ensuring a technologically error-free experience, along with streamlining the online enrollment process will be most impactful to future marketplace shoppers,” said Rick Johnson, senior director of the health care practice at J.D. Power. “While the uninsured are now a smaller group, they continue to be underserved, just as they were prior to the exchanges, and continue to need more information delivered in an easy-to-understand and personal way.”

J.D. Power found that many shoppers began the enrollment process but had problems completing their plan purchase at the time of the survey primarily due to three reasons:

  • A combination of technical problems experienced during the enrollment process (40 percent);
  • The application process taking too long (19 percent); and
  • The website not having enough information about the plans to make a selection (18 percent).

Additionally, 49 percent of shoppers who didn’t complete enrollment did not choose a plan during their initial shopping experience because they had not yet decided which plan they wanted.

The technical problems for have been well-documented.

The survey found that satisfaction was higher among those enrollees who got in-person help from brokers and navigators.

When shoppers used a navigator — a certified agent or broker used by 17 percent of shoppers — during the shopping process, satisfaction rose to a score of 631 compared to 611 for those who didn’t use a navigator.

Though it was the least common way to sign up for a health plan, in-person enrollment had a higher satisfaction rate at 715 points. Online enrollment had a satisfaction score of just 597 while selecting a plan on the phone had a score of 623.

That’s in line with previous research from the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which found that brokers are the highest-ranked of all information sources on PPACA and enrollment help by consumers.

But that finding also means carriers and brokers have more work to do, too, in working to engage consumers. J.D. Power said that “health insurance companies and the exchanges should continue to find ways to personalize the insurance shopping experience for consumers.”

“When the dust finally settles later in 2014 and in 2015, for health insurance providers to thrive in this new environment, they will need to retool their marketing, information and enrollment efforts toward a new generation of uninsured to serve their needs,” Johnson said.