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ACA individual health market creeps open

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The individual major medical coverage open enrollment period for 2017 starts tomorrow.

Many dark clouds hang overhead.

Many big insurers have already backed away from the individual major medical market and are preparing to “reduce their footprint” in the market even further in the coming year.

Related: Aetna exec sees ACA risk-adjustment death spiral

Indianapolis-based Anthem is staying in the market, but it’s showing little enthusiasm for acquiring large amount of new individual medical business.

Even Molina Healthcare, a Long Beach, California-based insurer that got its start in the Medicaid market and has top executives who see serving low-income and moderate-income ACA exchange users as part of the company’s core mission, said last week that a key ACA risk-management program, a risk-adjustment program that’s supposed to use cash from individual issuers with low-risk enrollees to help issuers with high-risk enrollees, is killing its exchange unit, by shifting about 25 percent of the unit’s revenue to competitors.

Related: ACA risk adjustment eats 25 percent of Molina exchange revenue

But there are some signs individual commercial health sales could be strong, whether issuers want the business or not.

At press time, Google Trends, a Google system that measures the volume of search activity for popular keywords, showed that search activity for “HealthCare.gov” stood at 5 percent of the 5-year peak level, up from 4 percent of the five-year peak a year ago.

Search activity for “buy health insurance” stood at 44 percent of the five-year peak, up from 35 percent a year ago.

Even though agents and brokers are complaining about low compensation levels in the individual health market and ongoing difficulties with communicating with HealthCare.gov managers, HealthCare.gov had registered about 53,789 individual exchange market agents for 2017 as of Thursday. A year earlier, HealthCare.gov had registered 53,345 exchange agents for 2016.

Stable HealthCare.gov agent registration activity could be a sign that some agents still expect to help consumers enroll in exchange coverage for 2017.

For 2016 coverage, some lower-cost issuers shut off plan sales early, because of fears they were taking on too much risk too quickly. If some consumers remember what happened last year this year, that could boost early 2017 open enrollment period sales, by scaring those consumers into buying coverage quickly.

Covered California, a state-based ACA exchange, will be using a new television commercial and a statewide bus tour to get consumers’ attention in California.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that runs HealthCare.gov, says it will support HealthCare.gov open enrollment activity by using outdoor advertising in markets with large numbers of uninsured people.

The performance of the ACA exchange marketing campaigns could affect the performance of sellers of off-exchange individual health coverage, and also of the performance of sellers of unrelated products, such as life insurance, by sparking, or failing to spark, consumers’ level of interest in all kinds of personal protection insurance products. 

Related:

PPACA risk programs: Will those kidneys work?

Aetna: Saving the ACA exchange system is a good investment 

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