As we approach the second open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act, we face some lofty goals. With a benchmark of 15 million that includes both new enrollees and renewals, organizations like ours that educate consumers have heard skepticism that we can simultaneously reach the still-uninsured while letting those who signed up last time know what steps they might need to take to stay covered. Rather than adopting different strategies aimed at different groups of consumers, we believe that a simple, unified message will get everyone the information they need.
As I’ve previously written about in this space, creating a seamless renewals process for the 8 million consumers who signed up through the Marketplace during the first open enrollment period will have its share of bumps in the road. Fortunately, if consumers do nothing but continue to make their monthly payments, their coverage will continue. But engaging a consumer to take some simple steps to update their account information and, if desired, review other options available in the Marketplace, will allow all consumers to make the most informed decision for themselves and their families.
When he enrolled last year, Mark Sullivan of Austin, Texas was just starting a business and planning on marrying his fiancée. The renewal process will give him the chance to see if his life changes qualify him for more financial help or a different plan for him and his family. Linda Barnett and her husband, from Taylor, Michigan, got off of an expensive COBRA plan and found an affordable Marketplace plan. However, the retirees might want to change some of the terms of their plan as Linda’s husband’s cancer recovery progresses.
People’s lives and healthcare needs can change in a year, and as the Marketplace enters its second year, the number of providers and plans in any given location may have shifted. Consumer auto and home insurers have helped to cement the notion that consumers should regularly shop around to make sure they are getting the best deal, such as the ubiquitous “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance” slogan. Additionally, it’s critical that those renewing coverage update their financial information to make sure they’re receiving the correct amount of financial help from the Marketplace.
So everyone, no matter whether they currently have insurance or not, needs to go through the same steps: 1) Check to see if you qualify for financial help. 2) Shop for a plan that fits your needs and budget. And 3) Pick the plan that’s right for you. We think these action steps can be neatly summarized under a simple message frame of “Get Covered. Stay Covered.” for everyone who will be checking out their options in the Marketplace this year.
Enroll America’s research and experience suggest that both the uninsured and those who got coverage in the Marketplace last year have more in common than not. A single, unified message will create an echo chamber to reinforce key messages that both groups need to hear and understand. The enrollment community – including nonprofit organizations, in-person assisters, and policymakers – can most effectively reach everyone by applying the same messaging strategies to the uninsured and those up for renewals.
Ensuring that 15 million Americans get covered and keep their coverage during a three-month span is no easy task. But just as the enrollment community was able to help 8 million consumers find quality, affordable health insurance during the historic first open enrollment period by informing them of financial help and all the new opportunities available on the Marketplace, we can reach this new goal by singing from the same hymnal and encouraging consumers to “Get Covered. Stay Covered.”