13.8M goal set for Obama’s fi­nal health care sign-up sea­son

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Ri­cardo Alonso-Zal­divar

WASHINGTON» Fac­ing new chal­lenges to a legacy law, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day set its goals for the pres­i­dent’s fi­nal health care sign-up sea­son.

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Sylvia Bur­well said she ex­pects 13.8 mil­lion peo­ple to sign up.

This is shap­ing up to be the most dif­fi­cult sign-up sea­son since Health­Care.gov launched in 2013 and the com­puter sys­tem froze up. But tech­nol­ogy isn’t the is­sue now. Premi­ums are go­ing up sharply in many parts of the coun­try, and some ma­jor in­sur­ers have ex­ited the pro­gram, leav­ing con­sumers with fewer choices next year.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says tax­payer-pro­vided sub­si­dies will cush­ion most of the im­pact of pre­mium in­creases that are ex­pected to be well into the dou­ble dig­its in many states.

For pol­i­cy­hold­ers whose in­sur­ance com­pany will no longer of­fer cov­er­age, the gov­ern­ment is au­to­mat­i­cally match­ing them with an­other car­rier’s plan. It’s up to the con­sumer whether or not to ac­cept the match or keep shop­ping.

Go­ing into its fourth sign-up sea­son, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law has yet to achieve sta­bil­ity. En­roll­ment has been lower than ini­tially pro­jected, in-

sur­ers say pa­tients turned out to be sicker-than-ex­pected, and a com­plex in­ter­nal sys­tem to help sta­bi­lize premi­ums did not work as in­tended, partly be­cause of ac­tions by con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans.

The law of­fers sub­si­dized pri­vate in­sur­ance to peo­ple who do not have cov­er­age through their jobs, along with a state op­tion to

ex­pand Med­i­caid for low-in­come peo­ple. Largely as a re­sult of the Af­ford­able Care Act, the na­tion’s unin­sured rate has dropped be­low 9 per­cent, a his­tor­i­cally low level. More than 21 mil­lion peo­ple have gained cov­er­age since the law passed in 2010.

The gov­ern­ment said en­roll­ment av­er­aged more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple through the first half of 2016, and more than 8 in 10 were re­ceiv­ing fi­nan­cial help.

None­the­less, the law re­mains po­lit­i­cally di­vi­sive

and Repub­li­cans are still vow­ing to com­pletely re­peal it.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is hop­ing for a strong signup sea­son to val­i­date the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture pro­gram, and for a vic­tory by Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to close out the long-run­ning po­lit­i­cal saga. Clin­ton has out­lined steps she’d take to build en­roll­ment and sweeten sub­si­dies for con­sumers.

Sign-up sea­son doesn’t start un­til Nov. 1, but pre­vi­ously

win­dow shop­ping has been avail­able about a week ear­lier on Health­Care.gov, now used by 39 states. That should be the case again.

Of­fi­cials say re­turn­ing cus­tomers will no­tice a smoother, more in­for­ma­tive web­site, mak­ing it eas­ier to com­pare plans. It’s also been op­ti­mized for mo­bile de­vices. Those who are sat­is­fied with their cur­rent plan don’t need to do any­thing; they’ll be au­to­mat­i­cally re­newed.

De­pend­ing on avail­abil­ity, con­sumers will have a

new op­tion of pick­ing “Sim­ple Choice” plans. These are plans that have fixed de­ductibles and stan­dard co­pay­ments, mak­ing it eas­ier to com­pare them on premi­ums and provider net­works. They’ll dis­play promi­nently on Health­Care.gov’s plan com­par­i­son tool.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is also plan­ning a ma­jor out­reach ef­fort, in­clud­ing more than 10 mil­lion pieces of di­rect mail and a steady stream of email to an elec­tronic mail­ing list of more than 20 mil­lion peo­ple. A

top goal is to en­tice younger, health­ier peo­ple to en­roll. Ex­pect pitches on so­cial me­dia plat­forms as well as tele­vi­sion and ra­dio.

This year, of­fi­cials will em­pha­size the sticks — not just the car­rots. Con­sumers will get re­minded that go­ing with­out health in­sur­ance risks a fine from the IRS, and the ba­sic penalty is now $695.

Open en­roll­ment ends Jan. 31. Con­sumers who want their cov­er­age to take ef­fect with the new year must act by Dec. 15.

AP PHOTO/ALEX BRAN­DON

Health and Hu­man Ser­vice (HHS) Sec­re­tary Sylvia Bur­well speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the HHS in Washington, Wed­nes­day, Oct. 19, 2016. Fac­ing new chal­lenges to a legacy law, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion set its goals for the pres­i­dent’s fi­nal health care signup sea­son. Bur­well said she ex­pects 13.8 mil­lion peo­ple to sign up.

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