Half of Exchange Signups Return Customers

Dec 4, 2014

It's been two weeks since HealthCare.gov opened for a second year of business. And a leader in Florida's signup efforts says about half who have visited so far are return customers.

Those renewing their coverage seem most interested in the kind of medical coverage they can get and are not just selecting the same policies, Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida, said Wednesday. 

She says cost of premiums seems to come second.

Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida.
Credit USF Magazine

"The driving factor that we are hearing from the field is that people are making choices that are more health based - You know the need to access a specific network of doctors or services or a hospital," said Ray, whose program oversees enrollment efforts across Florida..

The federal marketplace is for Floridians and residents in 36 other states that are without other access to affordable health insurance. It's also the only place to qualify for some financial help paying for monthly premiums. Ninety percent of the almost 1 million Floridians who signed up last year qualified for some level of assistance.

Nationwide, health insurance sign-ups through HealthCare.gov slowed over Thanksgiving week, the Obama administration said Wednesday. But they’re not hitting the panic button yet.

A Thanksgiving slowdown was expected, because consumers are traveling, spending time with family, and going shopping. The federal insurance website seems to be humming along smoothly. And millions of current customers will be automatically re-enrolled for 2015 if they do nothing.

Still, updated figures from the administration showed that a little more than 300,000 people picked a plan from Nov. 22 through Black Friday, Nov. 28, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

That compared to more than 460,000 the previous week, and it brought the total to at least 765,000 people enrolled for 2015. About half are new customers and half were changing or updating their current coverage.

The first really big test will come Dec. 15, which is the deadline for people to sign up for new coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. Enrollment on HealthCare dot gov ends February 15.

It’s also the deadline for current customers to make changes to their coverage and have those take effect at the start of the year.

“The numbers of people enrolling early are underwhelming, but nobody is going to jump out there and say Obamacare is failing, only to see 6 million people sign up in December,” said Robert Laszewski, a health industry consultant. Last year showed that many consumers are driven by deadlines and wait until the last minute to act.

Rays says Florida navigators signing consumers up on the federal health insurance marketplace have another warning this year. There's a bigger financial penalty this year for those who go without coverage.

The Affordable Care Act requires nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance. Ray said the penalty for not having coverage has at the very least doubled from just a year ago, when consumers were penalized 1 percent of their income, or $95 per adult.

"It's nothing to sneeze at," she said of the penalty. "I mean, it's $325 per adult and one hundred sixty something per child or two percent of your income, which for a family could be significant. It could be a big difference for them."

Wednesday’s numbers were preliminary, and also partial. They included only sign-ups from the 37 states using the federal website. Some major states including California and New York are running their own enrollment efforts, and their numbers were not in the federal report.

The Obama administration has set a national goal of 9.1 million people signed up for 2015, a significant increase over the roughly 6.7 million who remain enrolled this year.

Current customers will be automatically renewed if they make no changes, but that may leave many of them facing higher premiums, so the administration is joining consumer advocates in recommending that people reassess their options.

One statistic from Wednesday’s update was particularly telling. Call center wait times averaged 8 seconds during Thanksgiving week, compared to a little over three minutes the previous week.

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Editor Mary Shedden at (813) 974-8636, on Twitter @MaryShedden, or email at shedden@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.