Heading into the second Affordable Care Act open enrollment period, we knew that helping millions of newly insured Americans renew their coverage for the first time would present a new and complex challenge for the enrollment coalition. What we didn’t know is that a year later, we’d be celebrating some important wins on making the renewal process even better for consumers.
The precedent hasn’t been very encouraging. Though prices change every year, only 13 percent of consumers switch plans each year in the similarly structured Medicare Part D program. Academics who study consumer behavior find that when faced with complex decisions about things like insurance, people frequently stick with the default option.
That’s why automatic reenrollment provided a critical safety net to keep consumers covered even if they didn’t take action. But there are important benefits to active reenrollment: it ensures that consumers receive the right amount of financial help for the coming year and that many consumers can find a more affordable plan if they shop around. So we at Enroll America made sure our staff, volunteers and thousands of partners across the country were encouraging consumers to go back to the marketplace, update their information and choose the best plan for their family.
The enrollment report HHS released in March let us know that the strategy paid off, and consumer engagement in the renewal process exceeded expectations: of the 4.2 million who renewed their coverage on the HealthCare.gov platform, more than half (2.2 million) actively shopped before renewing. And of those who shopped, more than half (1.2 million) switched to a new plan for their 2015 coverage.
Those numbers make clear that there are real benefits for consumers when they engage with the renewal process, but there’s still much more to be done to make sure every consumer finds the plan that best fits their needs and budget.
That’s why we’ve continued to recommend ways to streamline and clarify the renewal process even further for consumers. And late last month, HHS released new renewal guidance that embrace an important change that we’ve been encouraging.
Like last year, consumers will receive information from the marketplace and their insurance company explaining the timeline for the renewal process, how their plan may be changing and how their financial help will be determined for the 2016 plan year. But this year, for the first time, the financial help amounts for most enrollees will be adjusted based on new income and premium data, rather than simply carrying over the previous year’s amount if the consumer doesn’t take action. That should reduce the number of people who end up mistakenly receiving too much or too little financial help.
There’s still more work to be done to improve the renewal process for consumers leading up to the next open enrollment – for instance, health plans, the marketplace and assisters will need to carefully coordinated to make sure the multiple forms of communication that consumers receive don’t cause confusion. But these improvements leave us well positioned to build on the momentum from last year’s renewal process and make it even easier for consumers to move forward.
Anne Filipic is president of Enroll America.