2020 OPEN ENROLLMENT ENDS (most states)

Time: D H M S

OE7

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.

Smart idea via the NY State of Health ACA exchange:

Increased Visits to Food Pantries During Holiday Season Provide Opportunity to Reach Uninsured New Yorkers

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 25, 2019) – NY State of Health, the state's official health plan Marketplace, today announced its partnership with food pantries for the third holiday season to educate consumers about enrolling in high quality, affordable health insurance. Food pantries across New York will have certified enrollment assistors on-site throughout November and December to answer questions about health coverage options and how to enroll in a health plan. This year, the Marketplace is also offering eligible New Yorkers the option to receive information on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the enrollment process.

Back in late October, a few days before the launch of the 2020 Open Enrollment Period, I issued a warning to ACA exchange enrollees who may have been benefiting from the "Silver Loading" premium pricing strategy for in 2018 and/or 2019 that the enhanced subsidies they've been taking advantage of for two years are likely going to be reversed for 2020:

What happens next year if the benchmark Silver plan drops by 4%...but the Bronze, Gold, and the OTHER Silver plans stay flat?

Over at the Washington Post, reporter Yasmeen Abutaleb has a disturbing-sounding story which immediately caught my eye and raised major internal alarms within the healthcare wonk/advocate community:

Critics say ‘junk plans’ are being pushed on ACA exchanges

The Trump administration has encouraged consumers to use private brokers, who often make more money if they sell the less robust plans.

The Trump administration is encouraging consumers on the Obamacare individual market to seek help from private brokers, who are permitted to sell short-term health plans that critics deride as “junk” because they don’t protect people with preexisting conditions, or cover costly services such as hospital care, in many cases.

So far, this is nothing new; I've been warning people about this since day one...it's the 2nd item on my "Seven Important Things to Remember" blog post from November 1st:

The Week 3 HealthCare.Gov Snapshot Report from CMS should be released later on this afternoon, covering enrollment in 38 states from Nov. 10th - Nov. 16th.

As a reminder, here's what the Week 2 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 half of the 244,000 difference. The other significant difference is that Nevada split off from HC.gov this year, which accounted for around 12,000 of the gap the first 2 weeks.

If you assume around 130,000 of the difference is due to the missing day, that still leaves 2020 Open Enrollment around 100,000 short of the same time period last year on HealthCare.Gov.

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