Earlier this year, consumers went through the tax filing season for the first time since the coverage expansion provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect. Now that taxes and health coverage are more connected than ever, we at Enroll America knew it would be an important learning opportunity – especially after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a special enrollment period for consumers facing the fine. We saw the tax filing moment as a way we could put the spotlight on financial help and emphasize the real impact of the fine to move consumers to action – but how would it ultimately affect consumers? Over the past few months, we dug into the data and gathered our own observations from our outreach, surveys, and the digital space and came to an important conclusion: messaging and outreach efforts to engage the remaining uninsured should remain linked to taxes.
In Enroll America’s new issue brief — Amplifying the Connections Between Health Coverage Enrollment and Tax Filing — we analyze how uninsured consumers and Marketplace enrollees navigated the tax filing process in 2015 and make recommendations for policymakers and other stakeholders that will enable the enrollment community to best leverage the tax filing moment to maximize enrollment in the future. Specifically, we are encouraging policymakers to make several improvements that would benefit consumers for both this upcoming tax filing season and beyond:
- In 2016, create a Special Enrollment Period between February 1 and April 30 for consumers who will face the fine for not having coverage in 2015.
- For the fourth enrollment period and beyond, set the annual Marketplace open enrollment period dates as November 15 to March 15, while maintaining the January 1 start to the coverage year.
- Reinforce the sizable increase in the fine for consumers leading up to and during the third open enrollment period.
- Facilitate a smoother filing of forms and ensure that every Marketplace enrollee receives an accurate 1095-A form prior to the tax filing season.
We see these recommendations, and the others we made, as important steps the enrollment coalition can take to institutionalize enrollment for the long haul. And of course, we are mindful that any decisions surrounding when consumers can sign up for marketplace coverage, undoubtedly will require certain trade-offs. That’s why we’re excited to offer these specific suggestions so we can work with the entire enrollment community to explore these strategies and different possibilities over the next few months, which ultimately will allow us to identify solutions that best meet the needs of the consumers we serve.
We faced a lot of unknowns during the last tax season, but we came out of it with some important lessons learned. Based on our observations and analysis, it is clear that the tax filing moment is a powerful opportunity to engage consumers about their health coverage options. Now that we understand the importance of that connection, making simple improvements to policies can make tax time even more significant. Feedback and support from policymakers and enrollment stakeholders will be critical to finding the best path ahead. And we look forward to working with them to identify even more ways to maximize enrollment.
Anne Filipic serves as President of Enroll America, a non-profit organization dedicated to maximizing the number of Americans who enroll in health coverage made available through the Affordable Care Act.