Last-minute Obamacare enrollment proving a hard sell
Did you put off signing up for health insurance because of the website issues? You're not alone -- and offiials are worried that you're too busy and frustrated to try again.
This post comes from Timothy W. Martin and Christopher Weaver at partner site The Wall Street Journal.
Insurers pressing for last-minute enrollees under the health care law say they are running into a worrisome trend: Customers who were put off by the insurance marketplaces' early troubles are proving hard sells.
Many people thwarted by the technical problems of HealthCare.gov are reluctant to try again, citing frustration with the federal site, web-security concerns and the pressure of the holidays, several insurers say.
While enrollment has risen this month after a series of fixes to the site, problems bringing customers back to the site could stanch those gains. With only days before the Monday deadline to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1, insurers are facing a much smaller, and sicker, pool of customers than hoped for.
Geisinger Health Plan, a central Pennsylvania insurer, has tracked down more than 4,000 people who expressed interest earlier this fall, urging them to attend sign-up events this week.
So far, few have responded: About a dozen have shown up at each event, said Lisa D. Hartman, the insurer's director of commercial marketing.
"It might be getting too late for people to make a move," Ms. Hartman said. "We've had some people telling us it's too close to the holidays."
Call-center workers at Arches Health Plan, a new Utah plan, have been working through a list of about 4,000 people who unsuccessfully sought coverage in October and November. Insurers have identified about 2,000 people who are still interested and have managed to enroll about 90% of them.
"We definitely have lost a lot of momentum, where people said, 'You know what, I'm going to come back in January,'" said Shaun Greene, Arches' chief operating officer.
One reason customers gave for their reluctance: Concern over reports suggesting HealthCare.gov could face data-security problems, Arches' executives said.
Before the HealthCare.gov website's troubled launch, the Department of Health and Human Services had projected that about half of the 7 million people expected to sign up on the exchanges for coverage in 2014 would do so by the end of December. Through November, only 365,000 people had chosen plans, though enrollment has ticked up to more than 100,000 a week on HealthCare.gov, which serves people in 36 states, in December.
Several states running their own exchanges, including California and New York, say enrollments have sharply risen over the past week. And some insurers are bracing for a last-minute surge.
From Oct. 1 to Nov. 10, health insurers and exchange operators spent $194 million to buy ads on local TV stations, according to Kantar Media, which tracks insurance advertising.
Ad buyers and consultants say the pace of insurer marketing has intensified in recent weeks. "Coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday, we saw a spike," said Elizabeth Wilner, a Kantar vice president, who expects insurer ads to continue through the spring.
"It's going to be a mad scramble to get them enrolled," said William Winkenwerder, chief executive of Highmark Inc., which operates Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Mr. Winkenwerder has contracted with a staffing firm to increase his workforce by at least 50 percent, if interest accelerates.
Insurance agents say they are seeing higher call volume in recent weeks from consumers who have delayed making up their minds until the final days. But the process has been slow. "Thirty minutes is not enough. Every call is an hour or longer," said Chuck Rosen, an independent insurance agent in Simi Valley, Calif.
But some applications remain stuck in limbo. For instance, as of last week, federal officials were working through a backlog of about 50,000 paper applications for coverage that were incomplete or contained errors, people familiar with the matter said.
An HHS spokeswoman said that while some paper applications were incomplete, officials were reaching out to applicants to help them complete enrollment. In an emailed statement, she also said HealthCare.gov had not been breached in any security attacks. The contractor processing paper applications, Serco Group PLC, referred emailed questions to a government spokesman.
Regina Steely, an uninsured 45-year-old from Eureka, Kan., was once a big supporter of the health-care law. But she changed her stance this fall after learning that the online exchanges weren't working well and that coverage, even after government subsidies, could cost her $80 a month—too much for her budget. Recently, she heard that HealthCare.gov is functioning better, but she said she is busy taking care of remodeling her home and trying to find a full-time job. She doubts she will find the time to sign up before Monday.
"I've got things to take care of. I'm not just sitting by a computer, waiting to log on," said Ms. Steely, who works as a part-time, in-home health care provider.
A muted turnout over the coming weekend would be bad news for health insurers, already grappling with low enrollments in the first months of the balky rollout. Health insurers could post significant losses for individual plans sold on the exchanges in the first quarter of next year if the initial batch of enrollees lacks enough healthy people to offset the costs of covering sicker and older members. Supporters of the health-care law had anticipated that most young people would wait until the last minute.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which received a federal grant to help Americans enroll, has seen many people with health conditions return repeatedly to its enrollment events and persist despite technical barriers.
Those customers are motivated because they were previously denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, a practice barred under the law, said Zach Reat, a director.
Insurers said federal officials have told them that HealthCare.gov will stop taking enrollments for coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1 at the end of the day on Dec. 23. The Obama administration has asked insurers to consider allowing enrollees to sign up even later, although the logistics of adding late enrollees are unclear.
The administration said last week it might further delay the sign-up deadline for Jan. 1 coverage should "exceptional circumstances" arise. The enrollment period continues until the end of March, but coverage for people signing up then begins later.
More from The Wall Street Journal:
Fool me once, shame on you,
Fool me twice, shame on me!
The voter livestock/slaves can have all the subsidized plans in the world, no hospital is going to admit them unless they prepay the deductible.
They have zero chance of paying the deductible, they aren't even capable of feeding and clothing themselves or controlling reproduction.
Meanwhile 50% of union K12 government school kids can't even read and liberals are silent, but the min wage/Healthcare distraction is all we hear from the likes of Keith Ellison types.
its own demise!! Lets hear it for Obama,the "King of Chinese Fire Drills"!! Beyond Belief!!
And now with the new hardship exemption, all of us healthy folks in their 30s and 40s will just sit tight, not enroll, and pay cash to the doctors when and if we need any medical work done. Spiral to your doom, Obamacare...
Folks, remember to adjust your tax withholdings so that you are NOT due a refund! In this way, Obama cannot collect the fine from you for not enrolling.
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