3 ways insurers can head off confusion, 'rate shock' at next exchange open enrollment

With the 2015 health insurance exchange enrollment period comes a new round of potential problems that insurers should address before enrollment begins, according to a new blog post from the journal Health Affairs.

Consumers who signed up last year must decide if they'll re-enroll in the same plan and will be looking closely at prices. Meanwhile, a majority of the remaining uninsured population is unaware that premium subsidies are available, so they don't know their costs could actually be lower than initially expected, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Both of these scenarios could lead to what the post authors call "rate shock."

To help prevent--or at least offset--members' price concerns and keep them from jumping ship, the authors shared several tips insurers can take before enrollment begins. Below is a summary of three of their suggestions.

1. Urge enrollees against automatically renewing their current health plan

Insurers should urge enrollees to compare premiums and other aspects of available exchange plans instead of automatically renewing their existing plan, a feature proposed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that would keep consumers in their plan unless they opted out of them. If insurers can successfully motivate consumers to compare plans, they could minimize rate shock and potentially lower monthly contributions for some members.

2. Help enrollees select the best plan option

Another step insurers can take is to help subsidized enrollees understand their after-subsidy rates so that they can choose the plan that's best for them. Offering such assistance requires insurers to provide decision-support tools that their customer service representatives, navigators and other outreach workers can use to guide consumers. For example, "premium migration tables" and tools that explain which doctors and hospitals are in-network for different plans could help smooth the renewal process.

3. Train employees to understand enrollees' perspective

To ensure consumers experience a smooth enrollment process, insurers should consider training their employees to understand the enrollees' perspective when it comes to health plans. "At a minimum, those who will be holding enrollees' hands next winter, must understand these challenges and be given the tools and training to help their clients cope," the authors wrote in the blog post. This is particularly important after two separate court rulings issued opposing opinions regarding Affordable Care Act subsidies, which will likely lead to confusion among consumers interested in signing up for coverage during the next enrollment period.

To learn more:
- read the Health Affairs blog post