Half of Obamacare users don’t want to go back to the Exchange this year, survey says

Beth Fitzgerald//November 3, 2014//

Half of Obamacare users don’t want to go back to the Exchange this year, survey says

Beth Fitzgerald//November 3, 2014//

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Americans aren’t eager to go back online and shop for a government-subsidized health insurance plan when open enrollment for the second year of Obamacare starts Nov. 15, according to a new survey released Monday by Bankrate.com.Americans aren’t eager to go back online and shop for a government-subsidized health insurance plan when open enrollment for the second year of Obamacare starts Nov. 15, according to a new survey released Monday by Bankrate.com.

That suggests many consumers will simply auto-enroll in their current plan rather than shop around for a new one — meaning they could miss a chance to buy a plan that’s more affordable or better suits their needs, according to Bankrate.com insurance analyst Doug Whiteman.

“We’re concerned that many of the folks who purchased plans the last time and will just let them renew automatically because they don’t want to bother with the health exchange again,” Whiteman said. “And that might not be the best way to go about it. They might be missing out on new options. There are new insurers on the exchanges for 2015 and you might be able to find a better plan.”

Chuck Cerniglia, vice president, UnitedHealthcare, which plans to enter New Jersey’s HealthCare.gov exchange on Nov. 15, said “Regardless of how consumers obtain health insurance, it’s important for them to review their options and ask questions. In many cases, people who review their health plan options may find ways to save money on their health care costs.”

He said customers “can expect to benefit from UnitedHealthcare’s national scale, clinical expertise, consumer product experience, strong execution and local presence in New Jersey.”

Mario Schlosser, co-chief executive of Oscar, one of the new choices New Jersey health insurance shoppers will find at  HealthCare.gov on Nov. 15, said, “Oscar’s plans are designed for New Jersey consumers and fall in the lower third of pricing while providing a unique set of benefits including price transparency, free wellness check-ups, no-cost generic prescriptions and free, 24/7 unlimited telemedicine with New Jersey Board Certified doctors.”

Schlosser said Oscar’s website and customer service team will offer “simple solutions for the people of New Jersey to quickly sign up, compare plans and even ask Oscar to do the work finding the right doctors for you.”

According to the survey, 51 percent of Americans who used the Obamacare exchanges to buy their 2014 health plans aren’t planning to return to the exchange this time around, while 43 percent said they will go back on the exchange.

New Jerseyans will be able to shop for 2015 health policies on HealthCare.gov between Nov. 15, 2014 and Feb. 15, 2015.

In New Jersey, 161,775 people signed up on HealthCare.gov and bought ACA plans that took effect Jan. 1, 2014, and more than 80 percent received a government subsidy to help them afford health insurance, according to figures from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Horizon and AmeriHealth NJ signed up the majority of New Jerseyans who bought coverage on HealthCare.gov for 2014.

Ward Sanders, president of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, the trade group for the state’s health insurers said, “If individuals are happy with their current plan, they might wish to take advantage of the automatic renewal.”

Sanders added, “If individuals, however, want to see what new options are available or if they received a subsidy last year and there is a change to their income, they will want to go to (HealthCare.gov) to review plan options and/or update their income information to make sure they get the subsidy to which they are entitled.”

Cynthia Jay is chief marketing officer of Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey, the new cooperative insurance company that debuted on HealthCare.gov in 2014.

Jay said, “HRINJ’s product portfolio has been greatly enhanced with 21 options now available, more provider access and more competitive pricing. Time spent checking out our new plans and rates can mean more savings, as well as potentially richer benefits this time around for many.  People need to ensure they have as much information as possible to know the total cost of ownership of a health plan, as well as what it covers and if the provider network suits them.  If they weren’t satisfied last year, they should also do research.  We’re still the only nonprofit, health care CO-OP in New Jersey.  We have a lot of new features and better pricing having listened to members, consumers, brokers, and small businesses over the last year.”

Three insurers sold policies to New Jerseyans for 2014: Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, AmeriHealth New Jersey and Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey.  New Jerseyans will have two additional insurers to choose from when open enrollment starts Nov. 15:  UnitedHealthcare and Oscar Health Insurance.

Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, said when it comes to shopping for health insurance, there is a “status quo” bias: “Many people will tend to stay put in their current plan even if doing so is not in their self-interest.”

He said one reason consumers might not be planning to return to the exchange is “they are happy to stay in the plan they purchased last year and see no need to shop again. Still, I would advise them to verify that there is not a plan that better suits their needs at the best available price.”

Linda Schwimmer, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said it’s probably the case that most people will auto-enroll in their current plans. However, “people would be better off if they revisited HealthCare.gov and did some comparison shopping.”

Schwimmer said the consumer’s financial situation may have changed and they might want to consider a plan where they bear more or less of the out-of-pocket costs. And she said the additional insurers who are entering the New Jersey market, “may offer the specific physicians or drugs that they are looking for or other types of services such as tele-medicine or use of technology that could make their lives easier in getting the type of service they need.”

Schwimmer said, “These first few years of the ACA will see fluctuation in pricing as the insurers are trying to predict what the individuals in the marketplace look like in terms of health care usage. Therefore, consumers should comparison shop on price as well rather than simply auto-enrolling in what might not be the best valued plan for them and their families.”

Ray Castro, senior policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, said, “It is very important that consumers shop again in the second open enrollment even if they have insurance now. The price for almost all insurance policies changes each year so there could be a better deal out there.”

Castro noted that with two additional insurers selling policies in New Jersey “that might create more competition to hold prices down and will certainly offer more plan choices.”

The premium subsidies provided by the government will change this year, so even if the cost of the policy remained the same the consumer could end up spending more, Castro said.

The government subsidies are on a sliding scale based on income, and phase out completely at four time the federal poverty level, which is about $46,000 for an individual and $95,000 for a family of four.

Castro said, “A consumer’s income may have changed, so it will be important to report that to avoid paying more in income taxes later if the consumer receives a premium subsidy.”

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, said, “People often pay higher prices because of the ease of automatic renewal. My advice is to treat health care insurance as an important personal decision, not just another commercial transaction.”

According to the Bankrate.com survey, lower income Americans who are eligible for higher subsidies are also more likely to buy coverage on the exchange.

Castro said that shows “that the premium subsidies that are being provided are having a positive effect. The survey underscores the importance of reaching out and educating the public about the opportunities in the exchange and that for most people it is still the best way to obtain the private health insurance they need and avoid a federal penalty.”

Among the Bankrate.com survey findings:

  • 43 percent said their biggest concern about the new enrollment season was “much higher prices for health plans.”
  • 52 percent said their household’s experience with the exchange was good and 43 percent said it was bad (including 27 percent who said it was “very bad”).
  • 53 percent are either very or somewhat confident that the exchanges will operate properly in the new season, versus 45 percent who are either not too confident or not at all confident.

The Bankrate.com Health Insurance Pulse is a monthly survey tracking American attitudes toward health care and their personal finances. It is conducted for Bankrate.com by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.


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