It seems like just yesterday that the Obama Administration announced that over 7 million people got health care coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace in its first open enrollment period, in perhaps the most significant achievement of the Affordable Care Act to date. Now it’s almost time for round two. On November 15, open enrollment will begin for 2015 coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace, and will last until February 15, 2015.
In the last open enrollment period, over 730,000 people got covered in Texas. But there are still over 5 million Texans without health insurance. Over one million of them will be forced to stay that way until our state expands Medicaid. But there is still plenty of work to be done.
There are a few things that will be different this year. For one, the Department of Health and Human Services has been testing Healthcare.gov daily to try to avoid the rollout debacle of last year. People who try to enroll on November 15 should be able to do so on November 15.
There are also more insurers who will be competing to sell plans on the marketplace – an increase of 25 percent over last year. That means more choices and potentially lower premiums. In Texas, sixteen companies will offer plans in the marketplace – one of the most issuers in the country. Information about the available plans and their estimated prices will be available in early November.
People who do not have health care coverage in 2015 will also have to pay a higher fee than in 2014. The fee is now the higher of 2 percent of income (twice what it was last year) or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child (more than three times what it was last year). That’s on top of all of the costs – both financial and physical – of paying for health care out of pocket.
As the federal government gears up for the second open enrollment period, so are outreach efforts. Get Covered America is ramping up for the open enrollment period by training in-person assisters, and is recruiting 2,000 new Certified Application Counselors. Their data from the first enrollment period found that people who received in-person assistance were more than twice as likely to successfully complete their enrollment than those who attempted it without help. So they’re trying to make sure more uninsured people have that opportunity.
There are also sizable groups of people who are eligible to enroll right now. People eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can enroll at any time of the year – not just during open enrollment. People who experience qualifying life events (like getting married or moving) can also enroll between open enrollment periods.
For those waiting until November to enroll, there are plenty of ways to prepare. HealthCare.gov offers a marketplace guide, a chart showing who qualifies for federal subsidies and a checklist of the documents needed to apply for coverage, among other resources.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 13 million people will be enrolled through the marketplace nationwide by the end of the 2015 enrollment period, up from the 7.3 million or so from last year. But Texas alone could account for almost all of that difference if it enrolled its full uninsured population, and could make those enrollment numbers even higher.
While Rick Perry works tirelessly to prevent low-income Texans from getting covered by resisting a Medicaid expansion, open enrollment is one opportunity he can’t take away.