This column was originally published in Morning Consult.
For those of us who have been in the thick of outreach and enrollment efforts since long before HealthCare.gov crashed or millions found the peace of mind that comes with health coverage, it can feel a bit hard to believe that the health insurance marketplace’s third open enrollment period has begun. Despite plenty of bumps and challenges along the way, the first two open enrollment periods under the Affordable Care Act have set a high bar for success. The uninsured rate has hit an historic low, around 17.6 million Americans have gained health insurance, and 6,700 partner organizations from all sectors have joined forces to make sure their communities get covered and stay covered.
So where does that leave us today? Even though we’ve made incredible progress, this is no time to rest on our laurels. We know that millions continue to face real challenges about how to fit health insurance into their tight monthly budgets and how to make sure they’re in the best plan for their needs. We also know that millions who have enrolled in coverage may be confused about renewal, and could be at risk of dropping out of the system. Now that the curtain has opened on the third open enrollment period (OE3), we have a plan to address these obstacles that are still preventing people from enrolling in and retaining quality, affordable coverage.
For Enroll America, success in OE3 comes down to working harder by working even smarter, and applying lessons we’ve learned to create tangible solutions to fill specific needs:
1. Demystifying the plan-selection process.
Almost half of the remaining uninsured say they lack confidence in choosing a health plan for themselves. And compared to current enrollees, people who’ve dropped out of marketplace coverage said it was harder to understand how much each plan would cost and which providers would be covered. They are also nearly twice as likely to have been unsatisfied with the plan they chose. That’s why we’re launching the Get Covered Plan Explorer, a digital tool that will make it easier to find the plan that’s the best fit. It will use cutting-edge data models to give people personalized estimates of the yearly cost of each plan available in their area, based on their financial and medical situation, and show which doctors are covered by which plans. When consumers are armed from the start with clear information on costs and coverage, it’s easier to find a plan they can keep.
For people who are re-enrolling, there are new plans and new prices on the marketplace for next year. We’ll be encouraging those consumers to look into their new options, and the Plan Explorer will make it easier for returning shoppers to zero in on the plan that will work best for them.
2. Making it easier to find in-person enrollment help.
According to a recent consumer survey, more than 7 in 10 of the remaining uninsured want one-on-one assistance with getting covered. And we know that people who got local help with the enrollment process were nearly 60 percent likelier to successfully enroll than those attempting to enroll online on their own. We also know that more than half of those currently enrolled through the marketplace received help, suggesting that they’ll be looking for in-person assistance to keep their coverage. That’s why we’re doubling down on the Get Covered Connector — a tool that lets consumers easily schedule free appointments for local in-person assistance from certified experts. The Connector will have more than 1 million appointments available for the third open enrollment period — just a few clicks away from anyone looking for help getting covered and staying covered.
3. Equipping community leaders to close knowledge gaps among the remaining uninsured.
Millions of uninsured Americans could qualify for financial assistance to lower their health care costs, but 6 in 10 of them don’t know they could get help. And we know the remaining uninsured are predominately young adults, Latinos, African Americans, and hourly workers. That’s why, for OE3, we’re expanding partnerships to enlist and empower organizations that already serve as trusted messengers for those populations, from faith groups and food banks to community colleges and taxi cab associations. And our Get Covered Academy is providing in-depth training and ongoing coaching on enrollment outreach best practices to more than 100 organizations in 16 states. By empowering other organizations to take the lead in their own communities, we can build a more sustainable model for enrollment that will last years and decades to come.
When I think about what success looks like in OE3, a few pictures come to mind:
A mom who had faced higher-than-expected out-of-pocket expenses this year will be able to find a more affordable plan and make sure her family stays covered because she sits down with the Plan Explorer and sees clearer cost estimates for 2016.
An uninsured community college student who wouldn’t have known how to sign up on his own will be able to get covered because he schedules an appointment through the Connector with an enrollment assister — at an event hosted on his own campus. A classmate whose coverage was no longer available will be able to stay covered because another assister at that event walked her through the new plans on the marketplace.
And a trusted local nonprofit will be able to reach, inform, and enroll community members who are still uninsured because it receives the tools and training it needs through the Get Covered Academy.
We know what needs to be done. We have a plan based on research, learnings, and our on-the-ground experience. And we have a coalition ready to make it happen. When those stories can be told in communities across the country, far from the national spotlight, we’ll know the coalition has raised the bar for a successful open enrollment period.
Anne Filipic serves as President of Enroll America, a non-profit organization dedicated to maximizing the number of Americans who enroll in health coverage made available through the Affordable Care Act.