One year ago, all the articles and buzz about Affordable Care Act’s health insurance open enrollment detailed problems with Web sites, confusing information for would-be purchasers as well as telephone queues two to four hours long at marketplace exchanges and insurers. What a difference a year makes the second time around for Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance open enrollment!
The first week of open enrollment, which began Nov. 15, was busy and probably the last one will be. But, the experience is nothing like last year. Government officials have reported that over one million people submitted applications for medical coverage for themselves and their families during the first week.
Telephone queues and Web systems had issues the first day, but things stabilized. Now, there are some one-to-two hour-long waits at some state exchanges or insurance companies. But those are the exception or are limited to states were old health plans were allowed to remain last year but must be replaced now. However, overall, the government reports an average wait time of about three minutes for 1.1 million callers to the federal marketplace. Approximately 3.7 million used the federal marketplace Web site to look for coverage.
On the federal exchange, which handles states that did not set up their own exchanges like California and New York, 462,125 people chose health insurance plans from Nov. 15 to 21. Of those people, 52 percent reportedly either renewed the coverage they selected in 2014 or changed between plans. The remainder did not have insurance when accessing the exchange.
That number should actually be higher. People who purchased insurance through their state exchange or the federal one should re-enroll if they received a tax credit (also called a subsidy) for 2014. The amount awarded is based on the age of those in the family as well as household income. Regardless of whether the income information changes, the number is unlikely to remain the same year to year as family members age.
Those answering telephones at health insurers report that people receiving tax credits range from those appreciative of government assistance that enables them to purchase medical insurance to those who resent having to pay anything or have to re-enroll for 2015. Some applying for tax credits legitimately have difficulty estimating their income because they are self-employed, earn commission or are farmers having to guess the success of next year’s crop output. Those people can estimate now based on a typical year and have until Feb. 15 to adjust the amount for 2015; otherwise, if they can reimburse overpaid tax credits when they file taxes for next year.
Overall enrollment last year at federal and state exchanges was 6.7 million. The current estimate is that the numbers of Americans who are uninsured have dropped by 25 percent. In addition, it is estimated that three to four million young adults became insured through provisions that were implemented in prior years, such as allowing adult children to remain on their parent’s health insurance until age 26.
The health insurance open enrollment period this second time around will run through Feb. 15. Most health insurers, however, report that people must enroll by Dec. 15 to have coverage on Jan. 1.
By Dyanne Weiss