The open enrollment period for 2021 individual and family major medical coverage starts Nov. 1 — but major medical coverage may be having a hard time competing with Halloween, politics and COVID-19 for consumers’ attention.
One rough interest indicator is the Google Trends search activity tracker.
On Oct. 27, for example, people in the United States searched for “COVID-19″ almost two times more often than they searched for “health insurance,” and almost 10 times more often than they searched for “Obamacare.”
Insurers may be relying on agents and brokers more than in recent years to persuade consumers to get and stay covered.
Insurers, regulators and Affordable Care Act (ACA) public exchange plan managers created the open enrollment period system. This puts limits on when people can buy ordinary individual and family major medical coverage without showing they have what regulators classify as a good reason to be shopping for coverage, to compensate from some of the effects of the ACA.
The ACA took away most of the defenses health insurers once used to protect themselves from high claim costs.
Supporters of the open enrollment period system says it pushes younger, healthier people to pay for health coverage even when they feel fine, by raising the possibility that, at some times of the year, they might not be able to get health coverage if they, say, suddenly break a leg.
2021 Open Enrollment Period Start and End Dates
The ACA exchange system gives consumers a way to use federal premium tax credit subsidies to buy health coverage through web-based insurance supermarkets.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide ACA exchange program services for residents of 36 states in 2021 through the HealthCare.gov website.
The individual major medical coverage open enrollment period will run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 in the HealthCare.gov states.
The District of Columbia and 14 states will run their own ACA exchange programs. Those states can do what they want about their open enrollment period schedules. Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland and Vermont appear to be using the HealthCare.gov timeline.
In the other 11 jurisdictions with locally run exchange programs, the earliest scheduled open enrollment period end date is Dec. 22, in Minnesota. The latest is Jan. 31, in California, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia.
Exchange Program University
The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center on Health Insurance Reforms has developed a free guide to the individual health insurance market and the ACA exchange program. The center created the guide for Navigators, or nonprofit ACA exchange ombudsmen, but agents and brokers can use it, too.
Agents Are the New Drinking Water
Here are five trends to watch in the individual and family major medical market.
1. Agent-broker love
In the past, before the ACA public exchange system came along, several companies tried to sell health insurance directly to consumers through the web.
Many of those companies ended up focusing mainly on serving brokers, making a majority of their sales through agents in call centers, or combining call center sales and distribution through brokers with some retail, web-only sales.
Managers of Covered California, Connect for Health Colorado and HealthCare.gov have indicated that about half of their enrollees come in through agents and brokers.
Agents and brokers have complained since 2014 about health insurers cutting or eliminating commissions, but many of the exchange program managers seem to be working harder than ever to appeal to agents and brokers.
Managers of HealthCare.gov, for example, are highlighting agent and broker registration numbers. They reported in a news release Monday that, as of Monday, they had registered 37,000 returning producers for the 2021 open enrollment period and attracted 5,300 new producers.
Kevin Patterson, the chief executive officer of Connect for Health Colorado, Colorado’s ACA exchange, wrote in a promotional email that the exchange staff is finalizing marketing and advertising plans to get the word out.
“We also know our brokers and assisters are starting to get appointments on the books to help enroll customers, so we redesigned and just launched our open enrollment electronic marketing materials to better support virtual appointments,” Patterson wrote in the email.