2020 OPEN ENROLLMENT ENDS (most states)

Time: D H M S

OE7

I have a different California-specific post coming later this afternoon, but I stumbled across a mildly interesting bit of data and figured this would be a good time to share it while I wait to be able to post that one.

As you may recall, while the ACA required that most individual market major medical healthcare policies sold have to comply with full ACA regulations, there were some exceptions to this. The biggest exception made was for major medical plans which had been continuously enrolled in since before the ACA was signed into law in March 2010.

These plans were grandfathered in, and so are appropriately called "Grandfathered Plans", and applied to perhaps 5 million people or so back in 2014, when ACA-compliance became mandatory for newly-sold policies.

This Just In via the Washington HealthPlanFinder:

Washington Healthplanfinder Urges Customers to Act Fast for Jan. 1 Coverage

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange (Exchange) today is warning customers without 2020 coverage that Sunday, Dec. 15 at 11:59 p.m. is the deadline to sign up for health and dental plans through Washington Healthplanfinder that begin on Jan. 1.

Since the open enrollment period began, more than 187,000 Washingtonians have already selected 2020 Qualified Health Plans (QHP) using Washington Healthplanfinder, including around 15,000 residents who signed up for health coverage over the past week. With traffic to wahealthplanfinder.org expected to continue rising, customers needing 2020 coverage are directed to submit an application and lock in their plan selection immediately to avoid any potential delays.

 

Me, two day ago:

I'm just putting this out there today because I know there's gonna be a bunch of eye-rolling stories completely misunderstanding the data later on this week.

Last Wednesday, the Week 4 HealthCare.Gov Snapshot Enrollment Report came out and showed a "mysterious" 41% increase in ACA exchange enrollments for the week vs. last year...jumping from 500,437 QHP selections to 703,556 QHP selections for the corresponding week this year.

This Wednesday, the Week 5 snapshot report will come out and will almost certainly show a "mysterious" large drop in ACA exchange enrollments vs. last year...from 772,250 down to perhaps 500,000 or so.

via Nevada Health Link:

Less Than Two Weeks Remain To Enroll In A Qualified Health Plan Through Nevada Health Link

  • Free enrollment assistance available; Weekend call center hours extended for duration of Open Enrollment

Las Vegas, NV - The clock is ticking with only 13 days left to enroll before the December 15th midnight deadline approaches. Nevadans can find coverage in a Qualified Health Plan (QHP) and Qualified Dental Plan (QDP) through Nevada Health Link, the online insurance marketplace operated by the state agency, Silver State Health Insurance Exchange – and the only place consumers can get financial assistance (subsidies) to help offset the cost of insurance.

To ensure consumers have as much access to help with the enrollment process, Nevada Health Link's call center has extended its weekend hours through the end of Open Enrollment on December 15. The call center will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST on Saturday, Dec. 7, Sunday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 14 and will remain open until 11:59 p.m. PST on Sunday, Dec. 15.

via the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange:

Maryland Health Connection will hold nearly 20 “Last Chance” events throughout the state during the final week of open enrollment Dec. 7-15 to provide free help enrolling in health coverage. Marylanders can enroll in health and dental coverage until Dec. 15 through Maryland Health Connection, the state’s health insurance marketplace.

At the free “Last Chance” events, certified health insurance navigators will help Marylanders sign up for a health plan and understand their coverage options and financial help available. Assistance also is available in Spanish.

Visit MarylandHealthConnection.gov or the Enroll MHC mobile app to browse plans, compare coverage and costs, and enroll.

The fall open enrollment is for private health and dental plans only. People who have coverage through Medicaid will receive a notice when it’s time to renew; enrollment for Medicaid is all year for eligible Marylanders.

Assistors Available On-Site at Winter Markets Across the State

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 3, 2019) – NY State of Health, the state’s official health plan Marketplace, today announced its continued partnership with NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets in an effort to educate shoppers at farmers markets throughout New York State about low-cost, high-quality health coverage during the Open Enrollment Period.

Consumers must enroll by December 15, 2019 for coverage beginning January 1, 2020. Certified Enrollment Assistors will be available leading up to the December 15 deadline at select markets to answer any questions about enrolling in a health plan through the Marketplace and to set up enrollment appointments. In addition, NY State of Health educational materials will be available at select farmers’ markets across the state. This is the fourth year of the NY State of Health-NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets partnership.

 

This isn't the biggest development in the world, but exactly a year ago today I made a big fuss about how New Jersey (and DC) had reinstated their own health insurance individual mandate penalties after the federal version was zeroed out by Congressional Republicans...but didn't seem to be going through much effort to let people know about the penalty.

While Massachusetts had launched a massive multi-media awareness/education blitz statewide to make sure people knew that they had dusted off their pre-ACA coverage mandate requirement, New Jersey and DC didn't appear to be doing much, if anything, to let people know that they'd face a stiff tax penalty if they didn't either #GetCovered or qualify for an exemption.

As I noted at the time, just like the Doomsday Device in Dr. Strangelove, it completely defeats the whole point of having a penalty if no one knows it exists.

A couple of weeks ago, BeWell NM, the name of the New Mexico ACA health exchange, held their latest board meeting. There's two key things to keep in mind about New Mexico:

First, they've been officially operating as a state-based exchange while "piggybacking" off of HealthCare.Gov since the very first Open Enrollment Period in 2013-2014...but they announced over a year ago that they're following Nevada's (and Idaho's) lead in splitting off onto their own full exchange, starting in 2021.

Second, as I reported back in August, there was an unusual development on the New Mexico ACA individual market:

CHRISTUS HEALTH PLAN LOSES QUALIFIED HEALTH PLAN STATUS

Over the past few years, more and more of the state-based exchanges have shifted from waiting until the end of Open Enrollment to officially report auto-renewals of existing enrollees...to going ahead and auto-renewing everyone up front, and then subtracting those current enrollees who actively cancel their renewals.

This has caused a bit of confusion, since the exchanges don't always make it clear who's being counted and when.

Case in point: Access Health CT, Connecticut's ACA exchange. Last year they reported 12,777 enrollees during the first two weeks of Open Enrollment...and also noted that there were another 85,000 existing enrollees who hadn't yet actively renewed their policies as of 11/18.

This year, their press release page states the following:

Qualified Health Plans (QHP):

  • Net Total QHP Enrollment: 98,131
  • 2020 OE Acquisition Summary: 7,344

Overall Volume

For the past two weeks, along with other noteworthy Open Enrollment data numbers, I've been scratching my head over what the deal is in Mississippi:

Once again, Maine remains the worst-performer year over year, mostly due to their expansion of Medicaid. Idaho isn't listed because they're a state-based exchange and haven't reported any data yet. Mississippi, on the other hand, continues to be the top out-performer vs. last year, which is interesting because there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for it.

Unlike some states, Mississippi hasn't implemented any additional subsidies, a mandate penalty or a reinsurance program of any sort. They haven't had any new carriers join the ACA market, nor have any of them left. I don't think either of the carriers on the exchange have significantly expanded their territory or changed their offerings that much either...in fact, average premiums are essentially flat year over year.

In other words, by all rights, Mississippi should be performing almost exactly as they did last year...but enrollments are up 15.5% to date. Huh.

I just received the following 2020 Open Enrollment report from the Massachusetts Health Connector (via email, no link):

It looks like we’ve pretty much wrapped up auto-renewal, how about an update on 2020 enrollment:

As of Nov. 29, we had a total of 286,640 people enrolled in Jan. 1 coverage, 6 with February or March enrollments, and 10,852 who had selected plans and had not yet paid to enroll. So, by the CMS definition, we are at 297,498. That includes about 17,000 new enrollments from people who did not have coverage as of Nov. 4 with the Health Connector.

I wish every ACA exchange would break out their numbers this way. Simple and to the point, but also with relevant details...not only "renewals vs. new" but also how many are enrolled for Januar vs. Feb. or March coverage and even how many have/haven't paid yet! The last is a bit unfair since Massachusetts is one of only two states, I believe, which actually handle premium payments (Rhode Island does as well...Washington State used to but doesn't anymore).

 

I'm just putting this out there today because I know there's gonna be a bunch of eye-rolling stories completely misunderstanding the data later on this week.

Last Wednesday, the Week 4 HealthCare.Gov Snapshot Enrollment Report came out and showed a "mysterious" 41% increase in ACA exchange enrollments for the week vs. last year...jumping from 500,437 QHP selections to 703,556 QHP selections for the corresponding week this year.

This Wednesday, the Week 5 snapshot report will come out and will almost certainly show a "mysterious" large drop in ACA exchange enrollments vs. last year...from 772,250 down to perhaps 500,000 or so.

Around 7,000 or so of this drop will likely be due to Nevada splitting off onto their own ACA exchange. A small number will be due to Idaho expanding Medicaid. But the vast bulk of this seemingly disastrous ~35% drop will be for a far simpler reason...the same one which caused the seeming 41% spike last week: Thanksgiving.

via Ariel Hart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The pace of Obamacare enrollment this year is up 9% so far in Georgia, a turnaround from declines since the beginning of the Trump administration. Nationwide, the pace of enrollment is up 2%.

Wait, what? Where on earth is she getting either of these numbers?

In Georgia specifically, ACA exchange enrollments are only up 4.5% vs. last year...and as I note at the link, even that's misleading because Thanksgiving was included in Week 4 last year but won't be counted until Week 5 this year.

The Week 4 HealthCare.Gov Snapshot Report from CMS should be released at any time, covering enrollment in 38 states from Nov. 10th - Nov. 23th.

As a reminder, here's what the Week 3 report looked like:

There are two major things to account for when comparing the two years: First, there's a day missing due to Nov. 1st falling on a Friday instead of a Thursday this year. This likely accounts for around ~120,000 of the difference. Secondly, Nevada split off from HC.gov this year, which accounts for around ~19,000 of the gap the first 3 weeks. In addition, a small portion of the difference is likely due to Idaho and Maine expanding Medicaid; exchange enrollees earning between 100-138% FPL should be tranferred over to Medicaid instead.

IMPORTANT: As I've noted before, Covered California has arranged to expand and enhance their ACA premium subsidies beyond the official ACA formula starting with the 2020 Open Enrollment Period. Back in October, I posted a detailed analysis, complete with tables and graphs to explain just how much hundreds of thousands of Californians could save under the new, beefed-up subsidy structure.

However, Anthony Wright of Health Access California just called my attention to the fact that I made a major mistake in my analysis which impacted every one of the examples: I was basing them on the draft enhanced subsidy formula from back in May instead of the final version, which is considerably more generous at the upper end of the sliding scale than the draft version was!

In short:

  • The ACA formula caps premiums (for the benchmark Silver plan) at between 2 - 9.8% of household income but only if you earn between 100 - 400% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  • The draft California formula is a bit more generous from 100 - 400% FPL and also caps premiums between 9.9 - 25% of income between 400 - 600% FPL.
  • The final California formula is more generous yet: It's pretty much the same up to 400% FPL, but caps premiums between 9.8 - 18% of income between 400 - 600% FPL.

I've therefore gone back and re-calculated and re-written the entire blog post below with the updated, corrected subsidy formula. My apologies for the error!

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There's two important points for CA residents to keep in mind starting this Open Enrollment Period:

  • First: The individual mandate penalty has been reinstated for CA residents. If you don't have qualifying coverage or receive an exemption, you'll have to pay a financial penalty when you file your taxes in 2021, and...
  • Second: California has expanded and enhanced financial subsidies for ACA exchange enrollees:

Until now, only CoveredCA enrollees earning 138-400% of the Federal Poverty Line were eligible for ACA financial assistance. Starting in 2020, however, enrollees earning 400-600% FPL may be eligible as well (around $50K - $75K/year if you're single, or $100K - $150K for a family of four). In addition, those earning 200-400% FPL will see their ACA subsidies enhanced a bit.

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