3 February 2023

Health Insurers Brace for Last-Minute Rush

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With only days to go before the deadline for consumers to choose next year’s health-law insurance plans, insurers and the federal government are bracing for what could be a crush of last-minute enrollment decisions. Of the approximately five million people who enrolled in 2014 health plans through the federal marketplace, only 720,000 had returned to the HealthCare.gov website to select a plan for 2015, according to the latest government tally through Dec. 5. Some 664,000 more people bought plans on the site for the first time. That leaves millions of enrollees who have yet to make a decision for next year.

Consumers have until 11:59 p.m. Pacific time Monday to select coverage that will start Jan. 1. If current enrollees don’t act by the cutoff they automatically will be re-enrolled in their existing plans—which could cost them more than if they shop around.

Insurers won’t get final details of which consumers are switching policies and which are standing pat until the deadline passes. As a result, some are taking preemptive steps, such as sending early bills to existing enrollees—with the expectation that the insurer will cancel the bill if a consumer changes plans—and beefing up staffing.

Last year, as the federal and state exchanges were hit by technology glitches, officials extended the January sign-up deadline. Insurers struggled to process error-filled enrollment files, and many people who thought they had signed up didn’t get their insurance cards by the start of the year.

In the end, nearly all insurers pushed back their premium due dates, often letting people pay as late as Jan. 31 for coverage that had started Jan. 1.

This year, insurers say the federal site has been functioning far more smoothly. Its biggest test is likely to come in the days before the deadline. Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator at the Department of Health and Human Services agency responsible for implementing the law, said site developers have prepared for a surge and there are no plans to extend the deadline. Open enrollment continues through Feb. 15 for coverage that starts as late as March 1.

Federal officials have been pushing consumers to return to the site to review their coverage. HHS leaders last week released an analysis of premiums across 35 states using HealthCare.gov, which indicated that many customers could see premiums rise unless they shop around. Some may also find the tax credits that help pay for coverage have gone down, due to aggressively low pricing on some policies.

Many insurers say they expect most of last year’s enrollees won’t take action. People who are automatically re-enrolled could create a late-December jam for the industry. Insurers say the federal exchange has been telling them when one of their enrollees opts for a competitor. But the passive re-enrollers’ information will arrive up to 10 days after the Dec. 15 cutoff.

Still, insurers are worried about misfires. For instance, if enrollees want to stop coverage from their exchange plans but don’t tell the exchange or their insurers, they will likely get mistakenly billed.

Click here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal. 

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