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Did Open Enrollment Pan Out the Way the Industry Projected?

Open Enrollment '16 (OE) has closed and analysis has begun. Was it successful? What did we learn that can be applied to next year? Were our projections accurate?

We are now looking ahead at the challenges and opportunities the OE ’17 cycle might hold. Each year we recognize that despite the planning done, insurers need to react in real time to changes in legislation, shifts in attitudes and in the marketplace as well as campaign data that shows how consumers are responding.

The good news is that industry efforts are effective and the rate of the uninsured population has continued to drop.  Figures from the federal government as of February 2016 show at least 12.7 million people enrolled through federal and state marketplaces. After Medicaid expansion in some states, open enrollment, and the extension of coverage for young people who can remain on their parents' plans, Obamacare has covered 17.6 million people which is the largest reduction of uninsured people in decades.

What are the key differences this year? 

  • Members shopped earlier, as a group. About 60 percent of HealthCare.gov's new customers, or 2.4 million people, signed up in mid-December to have a health plan that went into effect on January 1, compared to 1.8 million new consumers in the same period for OE '15.
  • Of the 3.9 million active returners during OE3, 61 percent or 2.4 million switched plans. Last year during OE2, of the 2.2 million active returners, 54 percent or 1.2 million switched plans.
  • The average age of consumers in OE ‘16 is lower through the deadline for January 1st coverage this year than through the deadline in OE ‘15. There were nearly twice as many consumers under the age of 35 ahead of the deadline for January 1 coverage this year compared to last.

What didn’t change?

  • Public approval still presents challenges. According to Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, the public’s view of the ACA is largely stable this year so far, with 46 percent holding an unfavorable view of the law and 41 percent holding a favorable view.
  • Advertisers need to expect the unexpected; due to unprecedented demand, CMS shifted the deadline for sign up this year but only for an additional 2 days.  
  • There were also shifts in the landscape of providers, for example, HealthRepublic’s exit from New York State was big news as providers stepped in to try to deliver plans to those who would lose coverage for both December '15 and all of 2016.    

So what does this mean for healthcare insurance marketers? 

We continue to be in a market where there is a tough fight for share-of-voice on a complicated subject in a short window of time. Communication planning requires time and data to deliver content to the right channels in a relevant and timely manner.  There is no one-size- fits -all message when the audience segments have different needs and have differing knowledge levels of topics ranging from: premium subsidies to automatic enrollment, to deadlines for enrollment and range of benefits offered by different insurers. 

We believe OE ’17 will have a positive outcome although there are contributing outside forces that we can’t predict, such as a heated presidential election and changes to the US Supreme Court. There are other challenges that we believe will remain, from continued erosion of employer coverage to price sensitivity.

As noted in Three Years of Open Enrollment, and What Have Health Insurance Marketers Learned?, premiums are a major factor that caused the previously insured population to search for new coverage. The average premium increase in OE ‘15 was 10 percent.  Forty %percent of people who switched to a new plan, whether or not that new plan was with the same provider, said that this new plan came to them at a lower cost. We expect to see more price sensitivity in OE ’17 as some individual market insurers are requesting 2016 increases exceeding 10 percent, causing concern over the affordability of premiums in the coming year.

Healthcare insurance marketers need to be savvy as the industry grows even more competitive.  They will need to plan to ensure they are capturing and harnessing the right data to make informed decisions.  In addition, marketers will need to select the best channels to invest in and those that will reach the appropriate targets within key segments at the right time and with the right messages.

With an ambitious goal of diminishing the pool of the uninsured, there is no rest for weary healthcare insurance marketers who are heads down examining the lessons learned from OE ’16 and planning for OE’ 17. 

View our on-demand webinar New Insights Into Customer Behaviors and Motivations  to learn more about the key trends and channels that are influencing shopping and switching in the ACA marketplace.