Healthcare Business News

Families USA urges changes for future ACA enrollment periods

By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: April 1, 2014 - 3:45 pm ET

Proponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, only a day after the closure of the first open enrollment period, already are advocating for a number of improvements they say will reduce barriers that still exist for many of the uninsured to obtain affordable coverage.

Extending future enrollment periods to align with tax-filing season, increasing funds for enrollment navigators and assisters, and excluding health plans with premiums that are too high are only a few of the 10 recommendations included in a new report released Tuesday by Families USA (PDF), a national healthcare consumer advocacy group.

Enrollment into qualified health plans through the health insurance marketplace topped the Congressional Budget Office's projection of 7 million, the White House confirmed during a news briefing Tuesday.

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“Our recommendations today build on the laudatory success of the first enrollment period, If they are acted on well before the next enrollment period, the momentum from that success will be sustained and significantly strengthened,” said Ron Pollack, executive director for Families USA.

Other recommendations include calling on the federal government to ensure silver level plans being offered on health exchanges have low deductibles, and eliminating the 50% tobacco surcharge insurers can implement to health plans for smokers. Other suggestions relate to improving the enrollment process.

Measures proposed include building a sustained public education campaign about the tax credit subsidies available for many who enroll into qualified health plans through the exchanges. Also recommended is the establishment of a “special enrollment opportunity” period next year that would run from Feb. 15—the scheduled deadline for the next open enrollment period—to April 15. The group feels such time would provide a chance for people to enroll after taxes have been filed to minimize the risk of incurring another penalty for not getting coverage by the end of the second enrollment period.

A 2012 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office projected an estimated 6 million people will incur a penalty for being uninsured in 2016, totaling $7 billion in fines.

“The financial help for people to make their insurance more affordable is very much tied to the tax process,” said Rachel Klein, director of organizational strategy and enrollment program director for Families USA. “That will also enable tax preparers to play a much more significant role in helping people understand their coverage options and helping them get signed up.”

Other recommendations include a continuation of the streamlined Medicaid enrollment campaigns done by several states that fast-tracked the application process of eligible people already participating in other public aid programs. Permission from HHS to allow states to conduct these types of programs is set to expire next year.

Also, the group calls for applications to be provided in languages other than English and Spanish to ensure more greater enrollment among immigrant populations, and improving coordination between the marketplaces and state Medicaid agencies to prevent delays in applications getting processed.

“It is our hope that the (Obama) administration and the states build on the significant success of the first enrollment period, learn the lessons that were achieved as a result of this first enrollment period, and be adequately prepared for when the next enrollment period begins on Nov. 15,” Pollack said.

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson

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