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Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Enrollment Assisters Can Expect in the Third Open Enrollment Period

Jessica Kendall

Director of State Partnerships

The third open enrollment period for the health insurance marketplaces is only 10 days away. Like the last enrollment cycle, enrollment assisters will be working to renew health plans with a greater number of consumers who have complex questions. They will also continue seeking new consumers who lack health insurance. This year, however, such outreach efforts may not get the boost from media coverage they received in previous years.

In the past, media coverage of marketplace enrollment was a hot topic. Even if the reporting focused on website glitches, the media often contributed to general public awareness of the opportunity to sign up for health insurance. In fact, in a survey done in 2014, 48 percent of respondents said that they learned about the marketplace through the media.  

This year, however, enrollment in the marketplaces may have less news appeal. Given the upcoming election and much-improved marketplace websites, chances that the media focus on open enrollment as a top story are slim. That means that outreach by enrollment assisters themselves becomes even more important. 

Spreading three primary messages about marketplace enrollment to three types of consumers

During the enrollment period that begins November 1, assisters will have to get creative about spreading these three main messages:

  • Health coverage is available.
  • People can get help paying for their insurance: In a survey commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), nearly 60 percent of uninsured consumers said that cost was the reason they had not signed up for health insurance or they did not know financial assistance was available.
  • Enrollment assisters are there to assist consumers every step of the way: In the RWJF survey, more than 70 percent of uninsured consumers said they wanted one-on-one help to sign up for health insurance.

The outreach and education assisters will be doing in their communities really boils down to three groups:

  1. Consumers who may not know about the coverage options available to them or about the services assisters provide.
  2. Consumers who already have coverage and may need assistance renewing their coverage to make sure they are in the plan that’s right for them. 
  3. Consumers who seek out enrollment assisters because they’ve learned about the services provided, possess some basic understanding about coverage options, and have set up an appointment.

Consumers who may not know about health insurance or in-person assistance

Reaching consumers who may not know about the available coverage options is what assisters have been doing since the first open enrollment period. Throughout the last couple of years, assisters have embedded themselves in local communities. This enables them to better focus their outreach and education efforts on those consumers who still lack health insurance, nearly half of whom may be able to buy insurance through the marketplace, according to recent HHS data. 

Despite the fact that we are about to enter the third period of open enrollment in the marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act, there are many populations with limited knowledge of available coverage options that assisters should consider trying to reach. 

One group that offers great potential for enrollment are people involved with the criminal justice system. As we describe in our new issue brief, Health Insurance for People Involved in the Justice System: Outreach and Enrollment Strategies, enrollment assisters in local communities across the country are reaching out to this “justice- involved population” to help them enroll in health coverage. The brief will help enrollment assisters and those working with the justice population think through how to creatively reach this population and those close to them to help them get enrolled and stay enrolled in health coverage. 

Consumers who need to renew their health insurance

Consumers who already have coverage but may not know about the renewal process and/or may need assistance renewing their coverage to confirm that they are in the plan that’s right for them make up another primary group assisters will see during open enrollment. Many assisters will recall the confusion that consumers faced during the last open enrollment regarding the renewal process. 

Consumers can often stay in their current plan, but that doesn’t mean that their current plan will remain the same. It may not offer the same providers, cover the same drugs, or cost the same. Consumers who have marketplace plans should be encouraged to go online, shop around, and find the plan that best fits their specific health care needs. 

For tips on how to talk about these topics in a consumer- friendly manner, assisters may want to keep these Families USA infographics at their desk and use them out in the community: 

Consumers who know about marketplace coverage and are seeking in-person assistance

After each open enrollment, there will be a greater number of people who already know about the services provided by enrollment assisters and about some of the coverage options available. Many assisters may have appointments scheduled already for November and December with such consumers. 

Working to make those appointments as efficient and productive as possible will be a priority this season, both to provide a positive experience for consumers and to allow assisters to help more people. To hear how seasoned assisters approach the appointment process, watch our recent webinar, Preparing for Open Enrollment 2016: Making the Most of an Enrollment Appointment. In it we heard from three speakers about the tools they use during their appointments. They provided great tips on how to increase efficiency and structure appointments. 

Upcoming webinar for assisters will focus on top resources

We always encourage assisters to share resources with one another and to use our resources in their outreach and enrollment work. On October 27, we’ll be hosting a webinar highlighting resources Families USA has created for assisters as well as resources from outside organizations. To inform us of a resource worth sharing, please email us at

As we get closer to November 1, we encourage assisters to think through how to cut through the static to reach the new consumers, those who need to renew their coverage, and those who want help enrolling in coverage.