With the enrollment period for federal health care halved, health exchange workers in Connecticut and across the country may have to work twice as fast to sign people up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Pursuant to a new rule released in April by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, health care exchanges in the United States now have only a six-week open enrollment period, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, during which individuals can add, drop or change their health insurance plans. Connecticut is one of 12 states that has a state-run health exchange, Access Health CT, and was able to extend the period for a week. The new deadline will be on Dec 22. In previous years, the open enrollment period ran from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.
Democratic lawmakers have accused President Donald Trump’s administration of trying to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans have fired back, saying that if former President Barack Obama’s landmark health legislation fails, it will be because of rising premiums and reduced choice — not the Trump administration.
A week into the enrollment period, Access Health CT CEO Jim Wadleigh appeared on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program on Nov. 8 and struck a hopeful tone.
“We are trending to meet last year’s enrollment number,” Wadleigh said. “We are cautiously optimistic right now that all the hard work our outreach and marketing teams have done is hitting the mark.”
According to Wadleigh, Access Health CT has made three major changes this year to meet the challenge of a shorter enrollment period. These changes include the opening of 10 offices around the state — including New Haven’s House Street location — instead of two, improving its website with a new plan-selection tool, and expanding its marketing and outreach efforts.
Wadleigh said that the government changed the rule to support carriers, companies that administer claims and pay benefits for health insurance, by making sure everyone is enrolled in a full-year plan. Previously, rates for people who enrolled in late January did not become effective until March. As a result, carriers were unable to collect the premium for the first two months, he said.
The rule released by the federal health department said the government reduced the enrollment period to “improve the risk pool and promote stability in the individual insurance markets.”
Others, however, are less convinced. Ellen Andrews GRD ’89, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health research and education organization, said that such a change will only undermine the Affordable Care Act by lowering the number of people enrolled, especially in light of other changes President Donald Trump’s administration has made, like reducing the program’s advertising budget by 90 percent.
“It’s not just that we need to get new people in, but people who are already there also need to shop among different options, and that requires talking to your doctor, making sure they take this plan … it’s really complicated,” Andrews said. “They’ve thrown a series of monkey rings into the system, and then they’ve also shortened the time period, and put it right during the holidays.”
Andrews added that profits have been consistently healthy for carriers since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Trump has said repeatedly that he intends to “let Obamacare fail.”
The Trump administration’s new policies have also drawn the ire of many Democrats. In September, four senators, including U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., released a statement condemning the administration’s plan to periodically shut down Healthcare.gov — the federal health exchange website — calling it “part of a pattern to sabotage ACA” and “particularly harmful as this year’s open enrollment period is only 45 days.”
Wadleigh emphasized that Access Health CT receives its funding from individual carriers rather than the federal government, shielding it from changes in marketing and outreach efforts by the Trump administration.
But the past year in Connecticut has been somewhat tumultuous for the Affordable Care Act. HealthyCT and UnitedHealthcare left the state’s health insurance market at the end of 2016. And this summer, Anthem and ConnectiCare, the two remaining providers in the state, announced significant rate increases, which average at 29.6 percent. State Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade attributed the rate increase to “increased medical and prescription drug costs along with higher utilization, as well as uncertainty in the marketplace” in a May 8 statement.
Andrews added that the companies calculated new rates assuming that Congress would not renew cost-sharing reduction payments, which in the past helped stabilize the market, as Connecticut’s budget shortfalls made them unlikely to fund the payment through state resources. She said that while the state has been successful in reducing the rate of uninsured indviduals, drug prices have soared in the past few years.
Among the 12 states with state-run exchanges, nine have announced that they will extend the enrollment period. New York and Washington, D.C., for example, allow individuals to enroll as late as Jan. 31.
Malcolm Tang | firstname.lastname@example.org