October 24, 2017

New re-enrollment timeline could leave exchange users stuck with unwanted plans, experts say

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    CMS for the 2018 coverage year will re-enroll individuals in exchange plans the day after the open enrollment period ends, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post—a move that experts say could leave consumers without an opportunity to shop for new health plans.

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    CMS for the past three years has automatically re-enrolled individuals in exchange plans on Dec. 16 if the individuals did not take action to select an exchange plan before that date. The Dec. 16 re-enrollment date came about a month and half before the open enrollment periods ended on Jan. 31. But earlier this year, the administration announced that it would shorten the open enrollment period for the 2018 coverage year so that it will run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 16.

    According to the Washington Post, consumers under the previous policy had time to visit HealthCare.gov to change their exchange plans or drop their coverage before the Jan. 31 enrollment deadline. About 2.8 million U.S. residents were automatically re-enrolled in exchange plans for the 2017 coverage year, the Post reports. According to the Post, that figure does not include an unknown number of individuals who opted to switch plans after receiving a notice indicating that their coverage would be renewed.

    CMS changes re-enrollment timeline

    Despite shortening the open enrollment period for the 2018 coverage year, the federal documents obtained by the Post shows CMS still plans automatically re-enroll individuals in exchange plans on Dec. 16. However, because the upcoming open enrollment period is scheduled to run through Dec. 15, CMS will be re-enrolling individuals in exchange plans one day after the open enrollment period ends, compared with about one and a half months before the open enrollment period ended in previous years.

    According to the Post, CMS officials on Friday did not confirm when auto-enrollment will take place for the 2018 coverage year, but in a statement said that "[s]imilar to Medicare's open-enrollment period, if you miss the deadline to enroll in a plan of your choice, you will not be able to make any changes to your plan until the next coverage year" unless individuals qualify for a special enrollment period.

    According to HealthCare.gov, exchange plan enrollees will receive two notifications—one from the federal government and another from their insurers—about automatic re-enrollment before Nov. 1. However, the Post reports that HealthCare.gov does not specify what information consumers will receive in the notices. As such, it remains unclear whether CMS will notify consumers of when the agency will automatically re-enroll them in exchanges plans or that individuals will not be able to change their health plans after re-enrollment, the Post reports.

    According to the Post, CMS declined to comment on the notices and pointed to a news release stating ACA outreach efforts will focus on informing consumers about "the new dates of the open enrollment period through digital media, email, and text messages."

    Some say new policy could result in US residents being stuck with unwanted plans

    Health policy experts and consumer advocates have criticized the new re-enrollment timeline, the Post reports.

    According to the Post, some experts say the new timeline could leave some consumers stuck in unwanted health plans because they will not be able to switch coverage once they are re-enrolled in their plans. According to Axios' "Vitals," individuals who are re-enrolled also might face significant premium increases because they were not able to shop for lower-cost exchange plans.

    Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives for Families USA, said, "If [consumers] find out after Dec. 15 they've been auto-enrolled, there is a real danger people will not be able to pay the premiums—or will drop out."

    Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, "It was never a good idea to auto-enroll," but noted that consumers in previous years were encouraged to visit HealthCare.gov to shop for new plans if they did not want to be re-enrolled in their previous plans. However, Pollitz said now, once consumers are re-enrolled, "That's it. The curtain falls" (Goldstein, Washington Post, 10/20; Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 10/23).

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