With the year drawing to a close, the 2016 Open Enrollment Period (OEP) looks to be going very well. According to recent data, the Dec. 6-12 week saw more than 1.3 million Americans enroll in health insurance through the federal Healthcare.gov platform. This marks the last full week before the Dec. 15 deadline, enabling policies to begin on Jan. 1, 2016.
Since the OEP began on Nov. 1, 2015, 4,171,714 million plan sign-ups have been tallied. From Dec.6-12, 500,000 new consumers purchased plans, for a total of 1.5 million new consumers throughout this OEP. So powerful was the demand in enrollment that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a two-day extension for those missing the Dec. 15 deadline. This allowed consumers to enroll in Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant plans until 11:59 p.m. (PST) on Dec. 17, 2016.
But if this first 2016 OEP deadline was missed, consumers still have two opportunities to enroll: 1.) Jan. 15, for a Feb.1, 2016 start date; or, 2.) Jan. 31, for a March 1, 2016 start date. By completing enrollment by either of these deadlines, Americans are exempt from the tax penalties for going without insurance in January or February, 2016. However, once the OEP closes, uninsured consumers may have to pay the greater of:
- $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, up to $2,085 per family
- 2.5 percent of your income above the tax filing threshold.
High enrollment numbers showcase success
The fact that an extension was necessary illustrates the progress the Obama administration has made with enrollment efforts. The CMS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), understood that consumers required more time to enroll for New Year’s coverage.
As of Dec. 14 and 15, hundreds of thousands had already selected plans, while about 1 million held their places in line by leaving their contact information. “The unprecedented demand over the last several days continues to show that health coverage is something millions of Americans want and need,” stated HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. The Dec. 17 deadline applies to states utilizing the Federally-facilitated Marketplace, including:
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Certain state-run exchanges have also provided enrollment extensions. This enabled residents’ coverage to begin on Jan. 1, 2016, if they completed enrollment by the deadlines. In addition, specific health insurance carriers are offering their own extensions in some states. For state-run exchanges, the extensions for Jan. 1 start dates include:
- California – Dec. 17
- Colorado – Dec. 15, if an application for health insurance was started, but not completed, the State Exchange will assist with enrollment for a January 1 start date.
- Maryland – Dec. 18, if consumer started application by December 15
- Massachusetts – Dec. 23
- Minnesota – Dec. 23
- New York – Dec. 19
- Rhode Island – Dec. 23
- Tennessee – Dec. 31, for enrollees with Community Health Alliance health insurance in 2015
- Washington State – December 23
To better showcase the enrollment progress, the CMS provides weekly Open Enrollment snapshots. These provide updated estimates of plan selections, call center activity and website visits. But the CMS is aware that the final number of plan selections may fluctuate, due to changes or cancellations involving life changes (e.g., marriage, divorce, childbirth). And, these snapshots only include new plan selections, active plan renewals and auto-renewals; they don’t include the number of consumers who actually paid their premiums.
As of Dec. 18, the latest 2016 ACA enrollment numbers found that an estimated 6 million Americans had enrolled in coverage within the 38 states using the Marketplace. The data showed that about 2.4 million of these enrollees were new, previously uninsured consumers. As of this point in 2014, the number of new consumers who signed up before the first 2015 deadline (3.4 million) is at least a third higher.
Not surprisingly, the CMS is very happy with this progress, calling it their busiest week ever. “Dec. 15 was the busiest day in history,” said Andrew Slavitt, the agency’s acting administrator. “We signed up 600,000 people in health coverage in just 24 hours.” He goes on to say that the HealthCare.gov platform saw 11 consumers signing up for coverage every second. In addition, in the five days leading up to the deadline, the data showed that 48 percent of the 1.8 million enrollees were new consumers; this increased to 60 percent in the last two days.
“The more who sign up the stronger the system becomes,” said President Obama. The President noted that thanks to the ACA, the nation’s uninsured rate is now below 10 percent. The positive enrollment news should continue, as the OEP will run until Jan. 31, 2016. And, the numbers for the 13 state-run exchanges and the District of Columbia have yet to be released.