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Monday, April 7, 2014

Families USA Report Offers Insight into Strengthening Next Open Enrollment Period

Talia Schmidt


Last week, on the eve of the close of the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period, Families USA released a special report, “Accelerating the Affordable Care Act’s Enrollment Momentum: 10 Recommendations for Future Enrollment Periods” highlighting ten things that the Department of Health and Human Services and/or state marketplaces can do to improve enrollment in time for November 15, the next open enrollment period. 

We sat down with Rachel Klein, Families USA’s Director of Organizational Strategy and Enrollment Program Director, to discuss lessons learned from the first open enrollment period and to glean the key takeaways from our report, available here

Q:     We made it through open enrollment! How would you sum up enrollment efforts overall?    
A:     Considering that last week we hit the 7 million mark for people signing up for health insurance, a CBO projection that both critics and supporters of the law were fairly skeptical about, I’d say we did very well. And when you factor in the problems that many users experienced with the website, I’d say that 7 million people enrolling for health insurance is pretty fantastic. It points to a basic need for health insurance in this country that was not being adequately met prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. 

Q:     Now that the open enrollment period has closed, where do health advocates focus their efforts moving forward?
A:     When we wrote our report, we asked ourselves this question: What is the best way to characterize the essence of enrollment efforts as we move beyond the first enrollment period? And we kept coming back to momentum—the need to capitalize on the energy and, as important, the lessons learned from the first open enrollment period. We really have to keep up the momentum and apply action to what we’ve learned in time for November 15 (the start of the next enrollment period).

Given that the next enrollment period is half the length of the first one (November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2014), we need to ensure that we make important changes to enrollment, well before November 15. And, in our report, we cover some of what we think are the most important things that HHS and/or state marketplaces should address before then. We can’t stop now, just because open enrollment is done.

  • We need to continue educating people over the summer, because there are a lot of people who still don’t know about their options (including the fact that there is financial assistance available) when it comes to buying health insurance. 
  • We need to continue educating consumers so that when they experience a life event (like getting married or having a baby), they know they need to report it immediately, as it might affect how much money they can get to help pay for health insurance. 
  • We need to make sure there is enough funding and resources for navigators and assisters helping health consumers enroll in coverage, as they play an integral role in the enrollment process. And it’s important to remember that navigators and assisters continue helping people to enroll even in between open enrollment periods.

Q:     How do we achieve the 10 recommendations discussed in this enrollment report?
A:     We call on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement these changes in order to make the next enrollment period even more successful. And these are all things that are imminently doable. 

None of the recommendations we make in this report require legislation; we’re certainly not calling to make any changes to the Affordable Care Act, but rather, how we create an environment to encourage even more people to get health coverage. This report captures the fine balance that, at Families USA, we felt was necessary—a balance between celebrating the success of signing up millions of people for health coverage, and one that underscores the need to working with HHS and state marketplaces to ensure that we take what we’ve learned in this inaugural 6-month open enrollment period to allow even more people to benefit moving forward.