Top administrators of the health insurance exchanges in New York and three other states said Monday that demand for coverage is higher than expected – in sharp contrast with the troubled launch of the federal insurance marketplace.
Officials representing New York, California, Oregon and Connecticut said that they expect a surge of enrollment in the period after Thanksgiving and that they hope to get a better sense soon of whether the highly desired young, healthy residents are signing up on the exchanges.
They spoke as New York and other states still are determining how to respond to President Obama’s proposal to let insurance companies offer plans that had been canceled because they don’t meet minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act.
“We’re in the beginning of the first inning of a nine-inning game,” Peter V. Lee, executive director of the Covered California exchange, told reporters on a conference call organized by the Families USA not-for-profit organization.
The four states represented in Monday’s conference call are running their own insurance marketplaces and therefore largely have avoided the problems of the federal HealthCare.gov site, which is serving the 36 states that declined to set up their own exchanges.
Families USA has consistently advocated on behalf of the health care law. It’s no surprise, then, that the call presented a relatively rosy picture of the first seven weeks of the operation of the exchanges.
Here are some of the take-aways from Monday’s call:
• Enrollment is meeting, or exceeding, expectations in the four states, which wholeheartedly adopted the Affordable Care Act and aggressively marketed the benefits of signing up for insurance on the exchanges.
Lee cited 59,000 people who had enrolled in a private insurance plan through Covered California as of last Tuesday, along with 72,000 in Medicaid, the federal health care plan for the poor. California is seeing 2,000 new enrollees per day, he said.
In Connecticut, which had 14,000 enrollees as of its most recent report, the state is about 14 percent of the way toward its goal for the March 31 end of the open-enrollment period, said Kevin Counihan, CEO of AccessHealthCT, the Connecticut exchange.
New York last week reported 48,162 enrollees, with about half Medicaid and half private insurance.
“I would say we are seeing great interest in New York, and we are very pleased with our enrollment numbers, as well,” said Danielle Holahan, deputy director for NY State of Health.
• While last week’s grim federal report on enrollment progress only counted people who have signed up for insurance on the exchanges through a private plan, the officials on the conference call argued that Medicaid-eligible enrollees also should be counted.
Oregon got permission to use a fast-track method of enrollment in its expanded Medicaid program, reaching out to members of the public who are already in the state system because they or their families receive social services benefits.
Oregon cut its uninsured population by 10 percent in the first six weeks of enrollment, said Amy Fauver, chief communications officer for Cover Oregon.
• The officials believe that enrollment will pick up between Thanksgiving and Dec. 15, which is the deadline to enroll for coverage that will kick in Jan. 1, and they are planning an additional marketing push for that period.
• They contended that enrollment in the 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, that run their own exchanges likely was hurt by extensive media coverage of problems with the federal website.
California decided to change the focus of its advertising campaign from promoting the affordability of coverage purchased on the exchange to reminding residents that their exchange is running smoothly.
• The officials cautioned that the success or failure of the exchanges shouldn’t be measured by the performance over the first two months of the enrollment period.
“We all know there has been a lot of consumer confusion over many elements of the law and the rollout,” Connecticut’s Counihan said, but “it’s just so early in the game. We’re going to ride all this out.”
• The four states still are determining how to respond to the president’s decision last week to allow insurance companies to enroll members in plans that previously had been canceled because they don’t offer certain “essential health benefits” mandated under the Affordable Care Act.
In Western New York, at least 137,000 people had received cancellation letters.
But Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, pointed out that the individual insurance marketplace is volatile, with a lot of annual turnover. So, he argued, it’s wrong to leave the impression that these are plans people have stayed with, or would continue to stay with, for a long period of time.