HHS Unveils Website, Call Center To Promote Affordable Care Act
The Obama administration on Monday announced an updated website and a new call center designed to help U.S. residents prepare for open enrollment in October and ultimately sign up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 6/24).
In recent months, the White House has raised concerns about promoting the ACA too early. However, with fewer than 100 days before open enrollment in the exchanges begins, the administration's promotional campaign is kicking into high gear (Howell, Washington Times, 6/24).
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration established the website and the call center in preparation for an influx of individuals who are expected to purchase coverage through the exchanges when open enrollment begins Oct. 1. In a statement, Sebelius said the new tools "have a simple mission: to make sure every American who needs health coverage has the information they need to make choices that are right for themselves and their families or their businesses" (New York Times, 6/24).
The call center will eventually have 9,000 employees in 11 states who can answer ACA-related questions in more than 100 languages. Consumers will be able to call the toll-free number -- (800) 318-2596 -- 24 hours a day for assistance. Those with hearing impairments will be able to use a separate number -- (855) 889-4325 -- for questions (Haberkorn, Politico, 6/24). Consumers also will be able to seek information through live Web chats (New York Times, 6/24).
In anticipation of the high numbers of new consumers, HHS said the website -- www.healthcare.gov -- was built to handle more than 60 million visits annually (Politico, 6/24). HHS also said it will offer a Spanish-language version of the site (Washington Times, 6/24).
The website contains more than 150 pages of new educational information for individuals as they prepare and begin to enroll in the exchanges (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 6/24). During open enrollment, the website will help consumers determine if they are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay premiums by asking users a number of questions, such as their annual household incomes (New York Times, 6/24).Â
Officials noted that CMS regional representatives nationwide would host demonstrations of the website and call center. Several such demonstrations are scheduled in Florida later this week.
Sebelius said the administration's most daunting challenge is that there still are many U.S. residents who are unaware or misinformed about the law (Modern Healthcare, 6/24).
Neediest U.S. Residents Could Be Left Out
Sebelius also raised concerns that some U.S. residents living in states that have opted out of the ACA's Medicaid expansion will not have access to either Medicaid or federal subsidies to purchase private coverage, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, the website acknowledges that some states are not expanding Medicaid and warns that individuals who are eligible for Medicaid should not try to purchase insurance in the exchanges because they will not receive subsidies. The website states, "A marketplace plan will be more expensive than Medicaid and usually won't give you additional coverage or benefits," adding, "You wouldn't be eligible for any savings on marketplace insurance and would have to pay the whole cost."
For those in states that do not expand Medicaid, subsidies only will be available to individuals with incomes at 100% to 400% of the poverty level, or $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four. Those living below the poverty line will likely be ineligible for the ACA's financial assistance (New York Times, 6/24).
HHS Sets Goal To Enroll 7M by March
Sebelius set a goal of getting seven million individuals enrolled in the exchanges by the end of March 2014, Politico reports.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 24 million U.S. residents will gain coverage through the exchanges by 2023, with about seven million in the first year (Politico, 6/24).
Sebelius said, "We're hopeful that seven million is a realistic target and that we're going to be driving our efforts toward that kind of enrollment effort." She added, "And it's both about numbers and also hopefully getting a balanced risk pool" (Modern Healthcare, 6/24).
HHS Looking to Moms, Pro Sports for Outreach Help
To reach the enrollment goal, Sebelius said she will adopt several strategies, including asking mothers to encourage their children to enroll in the exchanges, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee reports Sebelius said mothers can be "very influential" in reaching young adults.
Sebelius also said she intends to reach out to the National Football League and other sports leagues to help get the word out about the exchanges (Pugh, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 6/24). She said, "We're having active discussions right now with a variety of sports affiliates, both in terms of what will end up being paid advertising but hopefully some partnership efforts" (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 6/24). She noted, "The NFL, for instance -- in the conversations that I've had -- has been very actively and enthusiastically engaged because they see health promotion as one of the things that is good for them and good for the country" (Morgan, Reuters, 6/24). However, HHS said no formal agreements have been made.
Administration officials declined to say what other sports leagues they are in talks with, but a spokesperson for Major League Baseball said the organization had been contacted (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 6/24). Meanwhile, "Healthwatch" reports that HHS is also in talks with the National Basketball Association (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 6/24).
According to Reuters, the campaign is expected to target 2.7 million young adults between ages 18 and 35, who observers say are needed to participate in the exchanges to keep prices down (Reuters, 6/24).
HHS Negotiating With Insurers
In related news, Sebelius also announced that the federal government is negotiating with health insurers over premium rates for plans sold through the federally run exchanges, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 6/24).
HHS last year said it would not work as "active purchasers" -- meaning they could bar insurers that offered uncompetitive rates -- in federally run health insurance exchanges. Instead, the department said it would adopt an "open market" model, accepting all insurers that apply to sell plans in the federally run exchanges for at least the first year (Galewitz, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 6/24).
However, yesterday Sebelius said, "We intend to do rate negotiation and make sure that the plans are going to offer consumers the best possible choices, as opposed to the law in some states ... where a company comes in with the plan rates and you take what you get" (Baker , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 6/24).
An unidentified senior administration official said HHS is taking a subtle approach in negotiations, in which insurers are being told whether their rates are competitive with other insurers. In essence, the administration is asking whether the insurer submitted the correct rates, the official said ("Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 6/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.