As the Affordable Care Act rings in its fifth year, supporters have a lot to celebrate at the close of the law’s second open enrollment period only a month ago. The official sign-up period ended on Feb. 15, but some consumers were given a last-minute chance to enroll if they were still waiting to get through crowded phone lines or slow website connections. The government has even offered a special enrollment period to people who owe the shared responsibility payment for the first time this year. To qualify, you have to attest to the fact that you didn’t know about the fee or didn’t realize what it meant for tax season 2015. With these safeguards in place, healthcare officials may see another boost in enrollment by the close of the extended season.
Even without the added sign-ups from the special enrollment period being offered through the end of April, the government can boast impressive enrollment figures for the 2015 season. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or HHS, nearly 11.7 million people have signed up for health insurance this year.
Enrollment by the Numbers
At the close of the official enrollment period on Feb. 15, the HHS reported enrollment at about 11.4 million people. This number didn’t take into account the last-minute enrollees who were still waiting in line to sign up. At the outset of this year’s enrollment period, government officials set a target enrollment goal of 9.1 million. Enrollment exceeded this goal by more than two million people.
Who signed up this year? Many of the same people who enrolled in a plan last year also signed up for new coverage this year, but the numbers also include new individuals and families who signed up for the first time. Of the 8.8 million people who used the federal marketplace to enroll in a plan this year, about 4.6 million came from new applicants. The government also achieved success in targeting younger adults during 2015. Approximately 36 percent of the federal marketplace enrollees were under the age of 35.
In the 14 states that run their own marketplace websites, which includes the District of Columbia, about 2.8 million people signed up for health insurance or were re-enrolled in an existing plan. Combined, enrollment for both the federal and state marketplaces exceeded expectations across the board.
Better Value and Affordability
It’s easy to see why so many new people signed up for a qualifying health plan in 2015 and why many of the marketplace’s existing customers came back for another term. This year, more insurers entered the health exchanges. The HHS reported that insurer participation had increased by 25 percent for the 2015 season. As a result, consumers had better options and more plans to choose from. On average, individuals could pick from 40 plans on the marketplace, and those plans may have cost many consumers less during the second enrollment period.
Federal subsidies made it possible for millions of people to sign up for health insurance during both enrollment periods. In 2015, about 87 percent of those who enrolled via the marketplace qualified for a tax subsidy to reduce the cost of their premiums. With tax credits, the average premium for a consumer using the marketplace was just $101 per month. Approximately 55 percent of the people who signed up for a plan on the federal marketplace will pay less than $100 for health insurance each month.
Increased Advertising Efforts
Much of the success of this year’s enrollment period came from increased advertising by the government, social media campaigns and other efforts by interested parties to get people on board. Healthcare officials launched a variety of campaigns to get the word out about health insurance, and consumers responded in kind. President Obama even appeared on the satirical news show The Colbert Report to engage with younger audiences about the need for insurance. The federally facilitated marketplace hosted more than 5,000 local outreach events and sent more than 23 million text messages to consumers who needed more information about their options on the exchange.
In addition to better and more targeted advertising efforts, the government also invested time into streamlining users’ experience on the federal marketplace this year. One of the biggest challenges to enrollment during the 2014 season was technical difficulties at the launch of the site. This year, applicants only had to click through an average of 16 screens to sign up compared with 76 last year, and more than 23,000 application counselors were available nationwide to assist consumers with the sign-up process. The 2015 enrollment season saw huge improvements not only in the number of people who gained a health insurance policy but in the ease and accessibility of the program itself.