Featured in Health Business Daily, Feb. 7, 2017
Reprinted from HEALTH PLAN WEEK, the most reliable source of objective business, financial and regulatory news of the health insurance industry. Sign up for a $91 two-month trial subscription today.
With the Jan. 31 conclusion of the open-enrollment period (OEP), state-based exchanges (SBEs) say sign-ups are up markedly from a year ago, with a large boost coming during the final two days for some states.
The future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been front-page news since the November elections. While that has prompted more questions from consumers, it doesn’t appear to have dampened sign-ups among state exchanges. Nor did the Trump administration’s Jan. 26 decision to pull back on HealthCare.gov’s outreach (HPW 1/30/17, p. 8) seem to impact SBE enrollment. Eleven states and the District of Columbia operate their own exchanges. Although the OEP ended at midnight Jan. 31, at least two SBEs are giving consumers until Feb. 4 to complete an application as long as the process was started before Feb. 1.
Here’s an enrollment update from SBEs that responded to a query from AIS Health:
California: As of Jan. 27, Covered California had nearly 1.63 million sign-ups (1.3 million renewals and 327,000 newly enrolled) — up about 15% from a year ago when it reported 1.41 million enrollees. On Jan. 31, the last day of the open-enrollment period, Covered California spokesperson Roy Kennedy said he expected “heavy enrollment.” Consumers who started an application by midnight Feb. 1 have until Feb. 4 to complete it. Final enrollment numbers were not available as of HPW’s press time.
Colorado: As of Jan. 31, 172,000 people had selected health plans via Connect for Health Colorado — up 12% from the same date a year ago, says spokesperson Luke Clarke.
He says customer service staff has assured customers that, despite efforts to repeal the ACA, the 2017 plans are effective until the end of the year. Clarke says the decision to halt federal outreach efforts had no direct impact on Colorado’s exchange. “Our own outreach strategies are much more targeted than HealthCare.gov and, of course, are proceeding full speed ahead,” he said.
District of Columbia: Preliminary data shows that sign-ups through the DC Health Benefit exchange increased slightly to 23,632 in Washington, D.C. More than 7,000 sign-ups were new customers — up by more than 1,000 at the end of last year’s OEP.
Idaho: YourHealthIdaho ended the open-enrollment period with about 103,000 signups — an increase from 95,000 at the end of last year’s OEP. Exchange spokesperson Karla Haun says the repeal-and-replace headlines triggered a small number of questions and comments, ranging from “please drop my coverage because this will be repealed” to “please enroll me in coverage because this will be repealed,” she tells AIS Health. “We have reminded customers that having health coverage is still the law and we are here to help them get access to affordable plans that meet their needs.”
Massachusetts: As of Jan. 26, about 51,000 new members had found coverage through the Massachusetts Health Connector. Total membership is about 248,000, but that number will fluctuate as people move in and out of coverage, says spokesperson Jason Lefferts. A person who signed up before Jan. 31 has until Feb. 23 to pay for the coverage, which would begin March 1. The Connector had about 36,000 new enrollments at the conclusion of last year’s open-enrollment period. Overall enrollment was 191,000 in February 2016. Lefferts says the exchange has reassured shoppers that the state is “committed to providing universal coverage to quality care for everyone.”
Minnesota: The MNsure exchange extended its enrollment deadline to Feb. 8 through a one-week special-enrollment period. The extension will give Minnesotans more time to take advantage of a recently enacted state law that will reduce premium rates by 25% for more than 125,000 people who don’t qualify for federal subsidies and were facing substantial rate hikes. The extension was approved by state lawmakers on Jan. 26. “Given how close enactment of the premium relief bill was to the deadline for open enrollment, we believe Minnesotans needed more time to benefit from this important opportunity to lower their monthly health insurance bill,” MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole said in a prepared statement Jan. 28. The state’s exchange hadn’t updated its 2017 individual enrollment estimates by HPW’s press time. However, on Jan. 11, the exchange said 428 small businesses offered health coverage to nearly 2,000 employees through MNSure’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). The number of participating SHOP employers has risen 65% so far this year, adding 172 more employers and covering 700 more employees — a 57% increase from 2016.
New York: 3.6 million people found health coverage through the state’s exchange — up 800,000 (28%) from the end of last year’s OEP. That enrollment includes qualified health plans (QHPs), Medicaid and the state’s year-old Basic Health Program (BHP). QHP enrollment increased to 242,880 with about 60% of customers qualifying for federal assistance. Enrollment in the state’s BHP ballooned 75% to 665,324. And 2.42 million people signed up for Medicaid. Jan. 31 was the biggest day ever for New York State of Health’s website, with nearly 3 million page views, the exchange said in a prepared statement on Feb. 2.
Washington state: More than 225,000 Washingtonians selected a health plan through Washington Healthplanfinder — up 13% from the same time last year. The exchange’s outreach efforts included a successful “digital campaign” where ads were placed on news and health websites, as well as on social media channels, search engines, YouTube and other areas. In addition to health plan selections, more than 60,000 consumers selected a dental plan. Spokesperson Ben Spradling says most of the questions from consumers have been related to whether they will be able to keep their coverage. Like other exchanges, he says reps have been reassuring customers that coverage is good for all of 2017 regardless of federal changes.
As of HPW’s press time, CMS hadn’t updated enrollment information for the 39 states that rely on the federal exchange. That update was expected sometime on Feb. 3. As of Jan. 14, more than 8.8 million Americans signed up for coverage through HealthCare.gov — up slightly from 8.7 million sign-ups on the same date a year ago. When last year’s OEP concluded, about 12.7 million had signed up for, or were re-enrolled in, health insurance sold through a HealthCare.gov or state-based exchange.
In a Feb. 2 interview with CNBC, Josh Peck, HealthCare.gov’s former chief marketing officer, said the Trump administration’s decision to pull back on outreach spending prior to the end of the OEP depressed last-minute exchange signups by nearly 500,000 people. He also said the executive order signed by the president on Jan. 20 might have frightened some customers away. Peck noted that last year, about 700,000 people enrolled through HealthCare.gov during the final sign-up week. The vast majority signed up in the final three days of the OEP.
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