Obama Administration Weighing Special Open Enrollment Period
The Obama administration is considering whether to allow a special open enrollment period for U.S. residents who have not yet enrolled in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges, Reuters reports (Heavey, Reuters, 2/18).
While the ACA's second open enrollment period ended on Feb. 15, the administration already extended that deadline to this Sunday for individuals who started their coverage applications last weekend but did not finish them (California Healthline, 2/18). HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said that fewer than 150,000 individuals who had started but not finished their coverage applications as of Feb. 15 have until Sunday to complete the enrollment process (Reuters, 2/18).
In addition, the administration is considering whether to launch another enrollment period that aligns with the April 15 federal tax filing deadline. An enrollment period lining up with the federal tax filing deadline would allow individuals who become aware of penalties under the ACA's individual mandate to purchase coverage for 2015 and avoid the penalties next year.
The special open enrollment would apply to individuals who faced tax penalties for not having coverage in 2014 and who also did not enroll in coverage for 2015. Under the ACA's individual mandate, U.S. residents who did not have health coverage in 2014 must pay $95 or 1% of their incomes, whichever is higher, as they file their 2014 taxes (California Healthline, 2/18). The penalties will increase to $325 or 2% of individuals' incomes, whichever is higher, for those who do not have insurance in 2015 (Ferris/Sullivan, The Hill, 2/19).
Burwell said officials will "analyze" the possibility and announce a decision within the next two weeks (Reuters, 2/18). She did not comment on the factors administration officials are considering in making the decision (Dickson/Demko, Modern Healthcare, 2/18).
Groups Urge Administration To Launch Another Enrollment Period
Families USA Director Ron Pollack said his group is urging the administration to launch the additional enrollment period because millions of uninsured U.S. residents remain unaware of subsidies to help U.S. residents purchase coverage through the exchanges and penalties under the individual mandate.
Meanwhile, some stakeholders questioned whether launching another enrollment period would cause insurance risk pools to change because of additional sicker enrollees. However, Peter Lee, director of California's state-run exchange, said insurers "were not concerned" about such changes (Adams, CQ HealthBeat, 2/18).
Lee added that he's seen "thousands of cases of consumers who literally walked across the street from a tax [adviser]" to enroll in exchange coverage after learning about the penalties. Still, he warned that opening another enrollment period could lead U.S. residents to "think in the future that these deadlines don't matter" (The Hill, 2/19).
Admin, Dems Tout Enrollment Numbers
In related news, the administration is touting the latest enrollment figures as proof the ACA is working and here to stay, the Washington Times reports (Howell, Washington Times, 2/18).
On Tuesday, Obama announced that 11.4 million U.S. residents have signed up for or re-enrolled in private health coverage so far during the ACA's second open enrollment period. Overall, administration officials said they expect about 9.1 million individuals to complete the enrollment process and keep their coverage by paying their premiums through 2015 (California Healthline, 2/18).
According to the Times, the figure includes about 8.6 million individuals who enrolled through HealthCare.gov. Further, preliminary estimates show that about 2.8 million U.S. residents enrolled in coverage through the 13 states and Washington, D.C., that run their own exchanges. The open enrollment period has been extended in some of those states, meaning final enrollment figures are likely to increase.
Burwell boasted the figures as evidence that the ACA "is now an important part of the everyday lives of millions of Americans," adding, "They finally have the financial and health security that comes with affordable health coverage." Burwell said, "While we have more work to do, the numbers tell the story, and the story is clear. The [ACA] is working, and families, businesses and taxpayers are all better off as a result" (Washington Times, 2/18).
According to The Hill, Democrats also are touting the latest ACA enrollment numbers. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, "Democrats are going to keep working to build on this progress by continuing to help families get coverage, make health insurance more affordable, and improve quality of care -- and I hope our Republican colleagues will join us" (Sullivan, The Hill, 2/18).
Admin Says Consumers Do Not Want ACA Benefits 'Taken Away'
Further, Burwell noted that U.S. residents do not "want the progress that we've made" under the ACA "to be taken away from them" (Radnofsky/Armour, Wall Street Journal, 2/18). The comments come amid Republicans' attempts to repeal the law and an upcoming Supreme Court case, King v. Burwell, which threatens the subsidies to help U.S. residents purchase coverage through the exchanges (Washington Times, 2/18).
Burwell said that individuals are "tired of the back and forth here in Washington" over the ACA. In addition, social media posts and emails from the White House noted that the latest enrollment figures "mak[e] it harder to understand why Congress would vote repeatedly to repeal reform, or why well-funded interest groups are still trying to challenge the law wherever they can" (Ferris, The Hill, 2/18).
According to the administration, most of the 8.6 million individuals who purchased health plans through the federal exchange could lose their coverage if the Supreme Court rules to invalidate the subsidies. Burwell noted that more than 85% of federal exchange enrollees qualified for the subsidies (Pear, New York Times, 2/18).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.