ObamaCare open enrollment revisited, still unpredictable

by Chris Woodward

Source: One News Now

Open enrollment is the yearly period when people can enroll online in a health insurance plan. For 2016 coverage, the open enrollment period is November 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016. While some states are once again operating their own exchanges, the federal government's Healthcare.gov is being used in most states. 

In September, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell made these remarks at the Howard University College of Medicine:

"We have three main goals this year: improve the consumer experience, retain our current customers, and increase our enrollment. Current Marketplace customers express satisfaction with their coverage, and we expect most to come back. And we believe we can continue to connect them with the coverage they need and bring the number of uninsured down."

In May 2015, a Gallup poll did find that Americans are more positive about the work the federal government is doing in healthcare. Still, more than half (56%) said they are dissatisfied. More recent research published by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions finds many Americans who bought health insurance on federal or state exchanges understand how their plan works, but are afraid they cannot afford various medical services.

When it comes to Burwell et al. wanting to "retain current customers," people who are enrolled and do nothing this time around will once again be automatically reenrolled.

Devon Herrick, Ph.D. and senior fellow for the National Center for Policy Analysis, says it's not a good idea for enrollees to allow themselves to be automatically reenrolled. 

"Insurers have figured out that they can increase the price of premiums on plans in some cases, and you may be paying a higher price and discover there are better deals out there if you shop around,” he says.

“But also, if your status has changed - you've gotten married, you've had a child, your income has gone up - you may find that you end up owing the government money through a clawback mechanism."

Regardless, Herrick says premiums will be higher for many people. "The problem with the exchange is that it attracts people who couldn't get coverage through their job, maybe they were uninsured, maybe they had been putting off certain things, treatments or medical care,” he says.

“So, yeah, they sign for exchange coverage and they have all this demand. They're wanting to get things done that they've been putting off for years, and what insurance companies are finding is they're paying out a lot more than average, and that may persist for a few more years. It's anyone's guess, but under those conditions you can expect healthcare costs to rise and premiums to rise."

The Obama administration says the Affordable Care Act is doing a great thing by providing people a place to get coverage they either could not get previously or they could not afford. Federal subsidies are still being offered to help people cover the cost of their care, but critics say it's not "affordable care" if the government has to offer subsidies that come from tax dollars.

It's unknown if enrollment will increase this time around. Figures vary from previous enrollments, some of which were followed by special signup periods, one of them meant to help people who were unaware that the government now taxes people for not having health insurance.