by Kim Bellard, March 11, 2014
Now that the initial open enrollment period under ACA is drawing to a close, we’re starting to hear more about how the enrollment is going, and the news is not encouraging.
The Administration has touted that 4 million have gotten coverage through the exchanges – still several million short of their goals – but they claim to not know much about whether ACA’s impact on the uninsured rate. Fortunately, outside organizations are helping to fill in some of the gaps.
The McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform released the results of their individual market enrollment survey, with results from February 2014. Only 27% of those who had obtained new coverage in 2014 reported having been previously uninsured. Even more discouraging, only 10% percent of all previously uninsured now reported having coverage. The faint sign of hope in the numbers is that both numbers are up sharply from previous surveys – 11% and 3%, respectively – but I doubt anyone who supported ACA’s passage thought they were signing up for only helping 10% of the uninsured.
Adding insult to injury, only three-quarters of those with new coverage reported actually having paid their premium, confirming reports that health insurers had warned about. And that percentage was only 53% among the previously uninsured, which does not inspire much confidence that they will remain insured for very long.
Perceived affordability remains the key barrier to buying coverage, even though 80% of those citing it were actually eligible for subsides, a crucial fact that two-thirds were unaware of.
One glimmer of good news is that Gallup reports that the uninsured rate has, in fact, dropped, down to 15.9% (versus 17.1% in 4Q 2013). To be fair, though, their results showed spikes in late 2013, and the 1Q 2014 results are on par with 1Q 2013 and 1Q 2011. Coverage through an employer dropped two percentage points from 4Q 2013, while both individual coverage and coverage through Medicaid were up by slightly under 1%.
The Urban Institute released their own survey results on ACA enrollment, conducted in December 2013. Among all adults 18-64, 12% reported having looked for information on health plans in the marketplace (Orwellian for “exchanges”), with another 17% planning to do so. More significantly, among the uninsured still only 19% had looked, another 33% thought they would look – and 23% had not heard about the marketplaces. The comparable numbers for those below 138% of the federal poverty level were 13%, 25%, and 27%, respectively, highlighting that the most vulnerable groups are not getting the message.
The picture isn’t really rosy anywhere. The people who were already in the individual market continue to be buffeted by changes in the rules of the road. For example, there is Administration’s executive decision to allow subsidies for policies purchased outside the marketplaces, in recognition that some consumers may have been too frustrated by the marketplace websites to buy from them.
Then there is the “bare bones plans” mess. After the uproar last fall about people having to lose their health plans because they didn’t meet ACA minimum standards, the Administration belated announced a one year delay in the enforcement of those standards, and has just extended that delay for yet another year, potentially meaning they won’t apply until 2016.
It’s anyone’s guess about what has happened with premiums in the individual market. A recent analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in selected states found (with the exception of Alabama) more competitive markets and premiums, while a report from the Manhattan Institute last fall found an average increase of 41% (much due to benefit changes), and a study by the presumably objective Society of Actuaries last spring also expected significant increases, especially for younger consumers.
Any employer with a health plan or 401k plan – or any state Medicaid director – could have warned us that voluntary enrollment typically leaves lots of eligible people not taking action.. We should have taken the approach many 401k plans have adopted – “automatic enrollment.” Driven by disappointing participation in 401k plans, the federal law was changed to allow employers to automatically enroll employees in their 401k plan, with a default contribution rate. Employees could still opt-out, or change the default contribution level, but employers have found that participation rates are higher and average contribution rates are higher under this approach. What’s not to like?