Alphabet Soup as Affordable Care Enrollment Comes to Wire

March 31st Deadline Blog Graphic-resized-600Bengaluru  We’re on the countdown now for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare, or at least we are for the first round in what now appears to be a 15-round main event.  At the bell for this round the noise in confusing many folks, but there’s little choice but to “just do it!”

            On one hand, picking a plan continues to be a maze, and navigators who are helping people enroll are not allowed to help even first-time insurance consumers in evaluating the options between the alphabet soup of often contradictory policies offered by an array of companies.  It’s daunting at nearly 40 in Texas and even with only four on offer in Louisiana and Arkansas, given the various permutations of plan levels and options, many health insurance rookies are scratching their heads.

Some surveys are painting the big picture and the messages are underlining the confusion and the avoidance.  

A…survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit, said 79% of uninsured respondents said they knew the law required nearly all Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine….a survey… by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation… said almost half of uninsured respondents hadn’t looked for information in the online marketplaces or didn’t plan to do so.

            Even opponents are starting to realize that 6 million or more are likely to be enrolled of the 50 million eligible and that this is a multi-rounder.   Interestingly, there is starting to be a debate now on how much the message should be about the penalties people may face versus the more positive costs-and-subsidies sell by the Administration. 

            We’re getting a hand from H&R Block and Jackson-Hewitt, who I suspect are looking to enter this field deeply in the coming enrollment years, because both are warning clients while they may have heard of  the penalties, they may be underestimating the bite.  According to the Wall Street Journal, H&R Block is putting out flyer for its 22-million customers that indicates the price could be much more for the first year than they’ve heard about:

One H&R Block handout for people who visit a branch specified that a married couple with two children filing jointly, and making $58,500 a year, would be hit with a penalty of $350 in 2014, then $975 in 2015 and $2,085 in 2016—far greater than the $95 many people assume they’re eyeing.

Unfortunately too many might confuse these numbers for the first year with their likely cost and think it’s a wash, and decide “I’ll just wait for next year,” because they don’t understand the fact they may be eligible for more subsidies and cost sharing right now.

            There are also a lot of people on the bubble.  In addition to the completed applications, there are another 4.5 million who completed all of the application phase on national or state websites, but never managed to pick a plan as they wallowed through the company maze.  Bringing those 4.5 million under care would take first year numbers past 10 million.  It’s hard to believe that we can get enough done in the last week, but those are folks just waiting for the first pain of penalties and the choice architecture to improve enough to push them over the line.

            There’s a lot of work still to be done, but everyone is pushing in the last week to make every day count.

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