Since the beginning of the 2016 health insurance open enrollment season, news about the Affordable Care Act has been grim. Monthly premium costs escalated. Medical deductibles increased. Networks narrowed. Co-op health insurance companies folded. Insurance carriers cut agent commission for enrolling individuals into a health plan.
Yet despite the negative Obamacare banter circulating in the news media, one statistic has emerged as promising – 1 million new people have enrolled in a health insurance plan on healthcare.gov that did not formerly have accounts with the federal marketplace. An additional 1.8 million have returned to the marketplace to renew their plans or shop for new coverage. While no one is yet speculating where these new enrollees have come from, there are some logical guesses:
- Uninsured individuals found themselves able to afford a subsidized health insurance plan
- Individuals moved from off-exchange plans for less expensive on-exchange plans
- The national number of self-employed small business owners and entrepreneurs increased in 2015
- The penalty of $695 per person per household for 2016 was a motivator to get coverage
The assumption that some individuals moved from off-exchange plans to marketplace plans could tie back to earlier news that health insurance prices increased for 2016. While marketplace plans can be nearly identical to off-exchange plans, narrow networks reduce the cost of the plan on the marketplace. A slice of proof that costs are causing people to opt for less expensive insurance is reflected in MNsure’s preliminary open enrollment report. MNsure, the state exchange for Minnesota, reported Bronze plan purchases are currently 50% of the purchases being made on the exchange, up from 34% the year before.
While it is too early to draw conclusions on the “why” of consumer shopping habits, new enrollees could mean the uninsured are getting health plan coverage that has eluded them for months or years. Secretary Sylvia Burwell was pleased overall with the new number of enrollees, and reminded Americans, “While we have more work to do, more than 1 million new consumers have signed up for affordable quality coverage … And the average returning Marketplace consumer who has shopped and chosen a new plan will pay less in premiums after their tax credits this year than they were paying last year.”
The first deadline for January 1 coverage is December 15, 2015. Enrollment by January 15 ensures February 1, 2016, and enrollment by the final deadline of January 31 will provide health insurance coverage starting March 1, 2016.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Healthcare, Inc. and HealthCare.com.