Last week, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued the final Marketplace Stabilization rule to “help lower premiums and stabilize individual and small group markets and increase choices for Americans.” While the rule is designed to help lower premiums and increase the choices consumers will have, some of the policy changes in the rule may potentially impact consumers in a negative way. Below are the key components of the final rule:
2018 Open Enrollment Period: The final rule shortens the annual open enrollment period to November 1, 2017, until December 15, 2017. This is half the duration of open enrollment periods in the past. This shortened window to enroll will result in many consumers potentially missing the opportunity to enroll in coverage and will overwhelm the already limited capacity of organizations providing in-person enrollment assistance. During the 2016 Open Enrollment period for the New York State of Health Marketplace (November 1, 2015 – January 31, 2016), about 74% of consumers enrolled or renewed their coverage with the help of an assistor. Consumers that do not enroll during the open enrollment period will only be able to enroll if they are eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (those eligible for Medicaid, Child Health Plus or the Essential Plan can enroll at any time during the year.)
Special Enrollment Period: Individuals applying outside of open enrollment will be required to provide proof of eligibility for a special enrollment period by submitting supporting documents. This rule aims to reduce fraud and abuse by ensuring that only those who are eligible are able to enroll. Consumers are not currently required to submit proof and this additional documentation burden could result in consumers experiencing delays in their coverage.
Continuous Coverage: The final rule allows insurers to require individuals to pay back past due premiums before enrolling in a plan with the same insurer the following year. Consumers who fell behind in premium payments will have to pay the balance due or they will not be able to enroll in the same coverage, forcing consumers to choose between overcoming a financial burden or being locked out of coverage for the entire year.
Ensuring Additional Choices for Consumers: the final rule allows insurers additional flexibility with the actuarial value of plans so they can offer more plan choices with lower premium options. While at first glance it does seem beneficial to offer greater consumer choice, actuarial value flexibility will allow insurers to offer cheaper plans by removing benefits or increasing out of pocket costs. Consumers may not realize what benefits are not being offered with their plan or what out-of-pocket costs they will be responsible for.
While overall these policy changes may be aimed at increasing choices and lowering costs, a robust education and outreach component should also be included to ensure that consumers understand how these changes may impact their coverage.
State-run marketplaces, like the New York State of Health, do often have more flexibility in establishing some of these policies so it is not entirely clear at this time how this final rule will impact consumers currently enrolled or enrolling in coverage through the New York State of Health Marketplace. HWCLI will continue to follow these changes and provide further updates when additional information is provided by the state.