The Obama administration said it must choose health plans for consumers on the Affordable Care Act marketplace because they might be at risk of losing coverage if their insurers abandon the exchanges.
HHS is getting heat from some who argue coverage from a different insurer might affect continuity of care if providers are not in the same network.
HHS said Thursday that customers otherwise might have a lapse in coverage.
The agency also emphasized that consumers could return to the exchange and shop for new plans on their own during the open enrollment period.
“There is nothing that binds them to that plan,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, chief operating officer and chief of staff at the CMS.
Officials have clarified that new coverage will only kick in once the first month's premium is paid. That means consumers can choose to stay in the selected plan or not.
It was also clarified during the call that the selection of an alternate plan will only happen for those consumers whose insurer has left the marketplace and not for any other consumers, such as those who may be facing a premium hike or those who are no longer in a benchmark plan.
The idea was suggested by patient advocacy organizations such as Families USA and Enroll America, according to Josh Peck, chief marketing officer at HealthCare.gov.
HHS on Thursday also revealed new outreach strategies for the fourth open enrollment period which will last from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.
The agency will rely on postal mail since older enrollees prefer that method over email. Last year, federal officials sent approximately 800,000 pieces of direct mail. This year, it plans to send more than 10 million.
Email and social media will target younger individuals who are twice as likely to enroll in response to email outreach as older consumers.
In terms of social media, HHS will be running image and video ads on Instagram for the first time. Currently, 48.2 million millennials use Instagram, and Instagram reaches 60% of all millennial smartphone users monthly.
HHS did not respond to questions regarding marketing budgets or enrollment goals.
Increasing enrollment and further diversifying the risk pool with healthier enrollees are critical to the health of the marketplace.
Enrollment in state and federal insurance exchanges hit 12.7 million during the 2016 open enrollment season. That was lower than a 2015 Congressional Budget Office estimate which predicted 21 million people would have coverage under the Affordable Care Act in 2016.