N.H. Insurance Officials Address Confusion Over Open Enrollment

Nov 3, 2017

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Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act began on Wednesday, but consumers are more confused than ever given the uncertainty over healthcare policy in Washington this past year.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department will host its annual public hearing on health insurance premiums and medical care cost drivers Friday at the UNH School of Law in Concord.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Alex Feldvebel, deputy commissioner for the department, to clear up some of the confusion surrounding enrollment this year.

(Editor's note: This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

What are the main concerns that you've been hearing from consumers so far this year? What are people most confused about?

Well, one of the first things we noticed is that some consumers were receiving renewal notices. These are people who have already signed up for the exchange for this year, and they're required by federal standards to receive a renewal notice from their carrier. And the renewal notices are showing increases in the required premium contribution that are very large, and they're concerned that they can't afford it.

When we say very large are we talking about multiples, hundred hundreds of percentage points?

Yes. So for example, the one that I looked at was a consumer who was contribution was $230 a month and it went up to $640 a month. And the unfortunate thing about it, is that that's not likely to be accurate at all. And that's not a problem attributable to the health carrier. They're required to give notice in a certain format. The problem is that the estimate of what the subsidy that you will receive is based on last year's number. And what's happening this year is because the average premiums going up by so much, 52 percent in the individual market, the subsidies are going up as well in order to keep pace with that.

But these renewal notices aren't showing the effect of the subsidies?

Right. So we're encouraging people to go online and use that shopping tool, where they'll get an accurate statement of what their premium contribution is going to be. We are getting more questions. We do absolutely have the sense that there is more confusion this year. Some people have the impression that the subsidies are not there anymore. When in fact they are.

So that's really what you're dealing with. People are hearing a lot of things come out of Washington, but really nothing has changed at the moment as far as enrollment this year.

That's correct.

The average rate hike for premium prices, as you stated, is about 52 percent for New Hampshire next year. For people who are paying the sticker price for insurance, that's usually people of a higher income who don't qualify for subsidies, what is the reason for the increase?

Well, there are a number of reasons. First of all, health care prices and utilization have been going up. Secondly, carriers lost money in 2016. So they're making up for lost ground. And thirdly, there's at the federal level cancellation of the payments for cost sharing reductions. Those are payments that go to the health carriers, and they have to make up for that loss in their pricing. So those three things have essentially driven these rates that we're seeing.

What about people who do still qualify for the subsidies?

The biggest message for them is go online, shop, look at what your premium contribution level is. It's likely to be very similar to last year. But your choices are different. We have fewer carriers on the market. We have three now. Just a couple of years ago we had five. And the plans are different. Things are changing. It's important to go online and make sure that you're selecting the plan that's best for you.

 

What are the main concerns that you've been hearing from consumers so far this year? What are people most confused about?

Well, one of the first things we noticed is that some consumers were receiving renewal notices. These are people who have already signed up for the exchange for this year, and they're required by federal standards to receive a renewal notice from their carrier. And the renewal notices are showing increases in the required premium contribution that are very large, and they're concerned that they can't afford it.

When we say very large are we talking about multiples, hundred hundreds of percentage points?

Yes. So for example, the one that I looked at was a consumer who was contribution was $230 a month and it went up to $640 a month. And the unfortunate thing about it, is that that's not likely to be accurate at all. And that's not a problem attributable to the health carrier. They're required to give notice in a certain format. The problem is that the estimate of what the subsidy that you will receive is based on last year's number. And what's happening this year is because the average premiums going up by so much, 52 percent in the individual market, the subsidies are going up as well in order to keep pace with that.

But these renewal notices aren't showing the effect of the subsidies?

Right. So we're encouraging people to go online and use that shopping tool, where they'll get an accurate statement of what their premium contribution is going to be. We are getting more questions. We do absolutely have the sense that there is more confusion this year. Some people have the impression that the subsidies are not there anymore. When in fact they are.

So that's really what you're dealing with. People are hearing a lot of things come out of Washington, but really nothing has changed at the moment as far as enrollment this year.

That's correct.

The average rate hike for premium prices, as you stated, is about 52 percent for New Hampshire next year. For people who are paying the sticker price for insurance, that's usually people of a higher income who don't qualify for subsidies, what is the reason for the increase?

Well, there are a number of reasons. First of all, health care prices and utilization have been going up. Secondly, carriers lost money in 2016. So they're making up for lost ground. And thirdly, there's at the federal level cancellation of the payments for cost sharing reductions. Those are payments that go to the health carriers, and they have to make up for that loss in their pricing. So those three things have essentially driven these rates that we're seeing.

What about people who do still qualify for the subsidies?

The biggest message for them is go online, shop, look at what your premium contribution level is. It's likely to be very similar to last year. But your choices are different. We have fewer carriers on the market. We have three now. Just a couple of years ago we had five. And the plans are different. Things are changing. It's important to go online and make sure that you're selecting the plan that's best for you.