HHS confirms 11.5M QHPs (plus 700K BHPs in NY/MN)

As regular readers know, I've always made sure to report the number of people who enroll in the ACA's Basic Health Plan (BHP) programs in Minnesota (since 2014) and New York (since 2016). The HHS Dept. didn't really highlight BHP numbers in 2014 or 2015 because they weren't even a rounding error nationally (they had 43,000 enrolled in BHPs via MNsure in April 2014, for instance). In addition, the BHP program in Minnesota was really just a retooling/expansion of an existing program anyway. As a result, it was treated as more of a footnote in the national reports. Interestingly, the number of MN residents enrolling in BHPs through MNsure this year is quite a bit lower (20,000), although state-wide the number is much higher (around 62,000 as of this week). Basically, 1/3 of MinnesotaCare enrollees are doing so via the ACA exchange, the rest via traditional state agencies/processes.

This changed last year when New York launched their own BHP program. Not only was it brand-new for the Empire State, but New York is obviously much larger than Minnesota. They enrolled 380,000 people by the end of OE3...and this year the number has already shot up 67%, to a whopping 636,000 New Yorkers. Combined, the BHP numbers between the two states now tops 700,000 people, which is no longer a rounding error...especially since practically all of those enrollees are coming at the expense of the "official" exchange QHP enrollment figures.

As a result, the HHS Dept. is finally giving BHP enrollments their due, by mentioning them more prominently in their reports. Case in point? This morning they released a mid-period Open Enrollment report which, unlike the "snapshots" which only include HC.gov data, also add the 12 state-based exchanges.

The short version? They've confirmed my estimates as of Christmas Eve...and in fact, their numbers are slightly higher than what I had down as of December 24th:

Outpacing last year, more than 11.5 million people are signed up for Marketplace coverage 

Key deadline of January 15th is fast approaching; consumers can still sign up through January 31st

A new report released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows that more than 11.5 million people nationwide were signed up for Health Insurance Marketplace coverage as of December 24, 2016, an increase of 286,000 plan selections relative to the comparable period last year. In addition, more than 700,000 New Yorkers and Minnesotans also signed up for 2017 coverage through their states Basic Health Programs (BHPs), bringing the total signed up for coverage through either the Marketplace or a BHP to 12.2 million.

It's important to note (as they stressed during the conference call) that most of the numbers in today's report only run through 12/24, whereas the "snapshot report" released last week ran through 12/31. That's why the numbers are slightly lower for most states.

“Nationwide demand for health coverage is higher than ever, as Americans prove again that Marketplace coverage is vital to them and their families,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.  “For Americans who have not yet signed up, it’s not too late. Open enrollment continues through January 31st, but you should visit HealthCare.gov by this Sunday to ensure your coverage starts February 1st. Most HealthCare.gov consumers can find a plan for less than $75 per month in premiums, and millions are finding plans that meet their and their families’ needs.”

Growing demand for Marketplace coverage refutes predictions that 2017 premiums changes would lead to sharp declines in enrollment and a so-called “death spiral,” a notion also debunked in a report released today by the Council of Economic Advisors. Instead, today's data show that a broad cross-section of Americans continue to rely on the Marketplace to access affordable, quality coverage. In the 39 states using the HealthCare.gov enrollment platform for 2017, more than 8.7 million people signed up for coverage. This group includes:

  • 4.8 million female and 4.0 million male consumers.
  • 3.9 million White, 584,000 African-American, 882,000 Latino, and 573,000 Asian consumers.
  • 1.6 million rural Americans.
  • 840,000 children, 2.3 million adults age 18-34, 3.2 million adults age 35-54, and 2.5 million older Americans. The share of consumers age 18-34, 26 percent, is the same as last year at this time.

The report underscores the importance of financial assistance for Marketplace consumers across the country. More than 8 in 10 individuals – 9.3 million people – who are signed up for 2017 plans through the Marketplace will receive advance premium tax credits. Among the 7.2 million HealthCare.gov consumers who will receive tax credits, tax credits will reduce premiums by an average of $386 per month. On an annual basis, that works out to $4,600 per year.

In other words, assuming that average is also true in the other 12 states as well, if the ACA (Obamacare) were to be repealed with immediate effect, 9.3 million people would have to pay an additional $4,600/year on average to keep their existing policies in place.

Today’s report also shows that Marketplace consumers are actively engaged with their coverage. Among HealthCare.gov returning consumers, 65 percent came back to the Marketplace and actively selected a plan, an increase from last year’s already high 60 percent active renewal rate.

Open Enrollment continues through January 31st. Last year, enrollment slowed in the middle of January but spiked in the days before the final deadline. Plan selection totals will also fluctuate over the remainder of Open Enrollment as some consumers choose to cancel their plans, for example in response to life changes like starting a new job with employer coverage or gaining eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid.

Consumers have until January 15th to sign up for coverage that starts February 1. With millions of Americans still in need of affordable, quality health insurance for 2017, HHS will continue its outreach to make sure uninsured Americans know about the coverage and financial assistance available through HealthCare.gov. Through the rest of this month, we’ll be running additional TV and radio advertising, sending targeted emails to consumers, and continuing our innovative partnerships with sites like Twitch, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.  And new this year, the IRS will send direct mail to people who went without health insurance in 2015, encouraging them to get covered instead of paying the penalty and letting them know that financial help is available.

This is a great idea...and one which the GOP has been screaming about (they're claiming it's a violation of privacy for the IRS/HHS to share data of this nature...I'm not sure what the legalities of this are, but if I was the HHS Dept., I'd make sure to have the IRS send those letters out before January 20th...