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Thursday, February 5, 2015

With 10 Days Left, Health Insurance Marketplaces Plan for Late Nights Ahead

Talia Schmidt

Editor

With the close of open enrollment only 10 days away, health insurance marketplaces are planning extra events and longer hours to encourage last-minute signups. Yesterday, as part of our open enrollment teleconference series, we heard from five enrollment leaders in states where the federal government runs the marketplace. 

Many states are offering extended hours during the final weekend of open enrollment to make sure as many people as possible get covered, says Laura Phelan of Get Covered Illinois

Michigan is tapping into its community resources. Groups like Get Covered Michigan are phone banking, proactively calling consumers, and talking to people in local library branches and various neighborhood events, says Michigan Primary Care Association’s Phillip Bergquist

Social media and advertising essential for reaching consumers

Ryan Barker of Missouri Foundation for Health reported that Missouri has hosted three social media chats that were very well received in the community. The first was about women’s health and marketplace plans, the second about LGBT awareness, and the third was a partnership with CMS to provide a Spanish-language chat on Facebook for those whose primary language is Spanish. 

Illinois became the first state to air a paid advertisement featuring a gay couple to encourage consumers to enroll in health coverage. The decision came in an effort to raise awareness about affordable options for the LGBT community.

The need for financial assistance in buying health coverage remains high, says Florida Covering Kids & Families’ Jodi Ray. “Our numbers show that that the tax credits and cost-sharing opportunities are really having an impact on individuals’ access to health coverage.” 

Tax penalty becoming part of the conversation with consumers 

Now is the time some states are pulling out the “tax penalty card.” With only 10 days left, enrollment experts are reminding consumers that if they don’t have health coverage, they will owe a penalty when they file their taxes. “Now we’re changing the language we have on our website,” says Phelan, “urging consumers to enroll, with a sense of urgency, before they get fined.” 

Coordinating with health insurance companies to educate assisters

When the number of insurance companies on the marketplace in Missouri doubled this open enrollment (from three to six), enrollment experts wanted to make sure consumers got their questions answered. “We got all six [companies] to join our coalition,” says Ryan Barker of Missouri Foundation for Health. “Then, we invited them up on a panel we organized, and they took questions from our navigators and assisters.” 

In-person assistance making a difference in enrollment

Illinois has already surpassed its enrollment numbers from last year. Phelan says much of that is due to listening to what worked and what didn’t work:

“We saw that last year, full-time navigators were enrolling more people, and the ones who were doing outreach were seeing higher enrollment numbers.”

As a result, she increased the number of full-time navigators in the state this year, and built more outreach into the navigator grants. Phelan also reported that CACs wanted access to the webinars and other resources provided to navigators, so her team took that into consideration. Now, CACs are included on all trainings. 

Jodi Ray of Florida Covering Kids & Families’ and Michigan’s Bergquist both emphasized how important assisters are for walking people through the complex task of choosing a plan. They’re seeing consumers begin a marketplace application at home, but seek out an assister to complete it. 

Supreme Court case looms over FFM states

If the Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell results in the elimination of health insurance premium subsidies on the federal exchanges, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services, William Hazel, says their response will depend on a few factors. “The question is, how quickly can FFM states get something up and running that will qualify as a state-based marketplace?” 

Families USA’s Executive Director Ron Pollack predicts that Congress would not act quickly and chaos would ensue. “We would see those 10 million Americans receiving subsidies on the federal marketplace re-join the ranks of the uninsured,” said Pollack. 

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