END OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD (42 states)

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Kaiser Family Foundation confirms importance of SHOPPING AROUND

This really shouldn't be considered profound or prescient, but the entire concept of of "free market competition" only works as intended if the customers actually shop around and compare their options. If people just ignore changes in the offerings available and stick with what they have regardless of the new options available, the "competition = better value" mantra collapses.

That's why I've been stressing the importance of shopping around on the ACA exchanges (or even off-exchange) so much this year. As I noted back in October:

#1: SHOP AROUND. SHOP AROUND. SHOP AROUND.

Earlier today, the HHS Dept. released an in-depth analysis of the coverage decisions made for by the 4.8 million people who were still enrolled in HealthCare.Gov policies at the end of 2014 who went on to either renew their policies or switch to a different one for 2015 (note that the analysis only covers the 35 states run via HC.gov in bothyears. Oregon and Nevada ran their own ill-fated exchanges in 2014 and Idaho moved onto their own exchange in 2015, so these 3 states aren't included. Hawaii is moving to HC.gov for 2016 but was on it's own for both 2014 and 2015).

The report itself is quite detailed about how many people actively shopped around, how many of those kept their current plans, how many switched to a different carrier and/or a different metal level, but the bottom line is this:

Consumers that switched plans within the same metal level in 2015 saved $33 per month, or nearly $400 annually, relative to what they would have paid had they remained in the same plan as in 2014. Those who switched issuers as well as plans in the same metal level were able to save $41 per month, or over $490 annually. Consumers that switched plans and also changed metal levels or issuers saved even more, although changing metal levels can lead to higher cost sharing requirements.

That's what you really need to know here: Do not passively autorenew your current policy. Visit the exchange website (either HC.gov or your state-based exchange, depending on where you live) and shop around and compare plans before settling on one.

#2: SHOP AROUND EVEN IF YOU DON'T THINK YOU CAN SHOP AROUND.

Some people will rightly point out that in their state/county there are minimal options for "shopping around". Maybe they only have one or two carriers to choose from. Maybe only one carrier includes the doctors/hospitals that they need to have in their network.

​Even in those cases, you should still shop around...because you might discover that your current carrier has a better option than your current plan this year. You might be better off switching from an HMO to a PPO, or vice versa. You might be on a Gold plan and find that a Silver plan makes more sense. You might want to switch to a plan which includes dental coverage (or for that matter, you might want to add a standalone dental plan).

Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation released their own analysis of the "shop around" situation and, as Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young notes, found the following:

Health insurance consumers who use HealthCare.gov to buy their plans can choose to stick with what they have and let the system automatically renew their coverage for next year. A new report suggests that just might be a bad idea.

That's because the best deals for this year aren't necessarily the best deals for 2016, according to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. In almost three-quarters of the counties across more than 30 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov system to apply, the lowest-price "silver" insurance plan is a different policy, and maybe even from a different insurer, than it was last year. For a 40-year-old, that could mean the difference between paying 15 percent more and 7 percent more next year, on average.

The third year of health insurance enrollment on the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act began Nov. 1 and runs until Jan. 31, and there's been a lot of changes in the plans available and their premiums. Across the country, rates on these marketplaces are going up an average 7.5 percent compared to this year. Some insurers instituted huge increases, while others actually reduced their prices.

The cheapest silver plan is different in 73 percent of counties in HealthCare.gov states than it was for the 2015 sign-up period. The Kaiser Family Foundation looked at these mid-level plans because they're the most popular compared to bronze, gold and platinum plans and the bare-bones "catastrophic" plans available to people under 30. Nationally, more than two-thirds of those who signed up for insurance through the federal exchanges or those run by states like California and Colorado selected silver plans during open enrollment for 2015.

HealthCare.gov customers will be automatically renewed into their current plans -- if they are still available -- on Dec. 15, although they can change to other policies until the end of open enrollment.