Heading into the second open enrollment period, Enroll America was committed to focusing not only on connecting the remaining uninsured to coverage, but also on making sure existing enrollees experienced a smooth renewal process. And while we’re thrilled that millions more new consumers have gained marketplace coverage, we’ve also been encouraged by taking a closer look at the full report just released by the Department of Health and Human Services to see what we can learn from consumers renewing their coverage.
Historical trends from other health coverage programs and research suggested that few marketplace enrollees would actively shop for 2015 coverage. Results from the similarly structured Medicare Part D program show that only 13 percent of consumers switch plans despite price variations each year. Automatic re-enrollment provided a helpful safety net to keep consumers covered through the marketplace even if they didn’t take action. And academics specializing in consumer behavior analysis find that people frequently fall back onto default options, especially for complicated decisions like choosing an insurance plan.
But the initial results from the renewal process illustrate how consumer engagement exceeded expectations. Within those states using the HealthCare.gov enrollment platform, more than 4.2 million enrollees renewed their coverage. And the data shows that more than half of those enrollees (2.2 million) actively shopped for coverage prior to renewing. Of those shopping prior to renewal, more than half (1.2 million) switched to a new plan for the 2015 coverage year.
This level of consumer engagement is good news because it shows that a significant proportion of enrollees were taking the steps necessary to ensure that their coverage continued to meet their needs and their budget. The fact that nearly 1 in 3 enrollees (29 percent) within HealthCare.gov states who renewed coverage for 2015 switched plans demonstrates that many consumers are taking full advantage of active shopping, but more could likely gain from fully considering their options. Thanks to increased competition in the marketplace, there are clear benefits to consumers exploring their coverage options — HHS estimated that more than 70 percent of 2014 marketplace enrollees in 35 states using the HealthCare.gov platform could find a plan for 2015 with a lower premium within their same metal level. Of course, premiums are only one factor consumers consider when choosing a plan, but this opportunity suggests that even at the dawn of the second open enrollment period, the health insurance marketplaces were already offering a healthy degree of competition that ultimately benefitted consumers.
While these results from the first-ever marketplace renewal process are certainly promising, they also show that there is still much room to grow. Enroll America has previously recommended several ways that federal policymakers and enrollment stakeholders can work together to improve the consumer experience and motivate even more consumers to take action. In the months ahead, we will continue highlighting and advancing best practices so that every enrollee is engaged and has the information and support needed to navigate marketplace fluctuations and maintain coverage that meets their needs.