As enrollment growth slows, assister programs help fewer consumers

Pillar that says insurance

Affordable Care Act marketplace assister programs helped 5.3 million individuals acquire insurance during the most recent open enrollment period, a 10 percent decline from the previous year, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The number of consumers who sought assistance enrolling in individual plans is down thanks to slower enrollment growth, but assister programs continue to deal with individuals who are uninsured at the time of enrollment. Still, a lower percentage of customers are new to the marketplace--indicating that their coverage may have been dropped--and more individuals are seeking help renewing coverage.

Several other notable statistics from the survey include:

  • Assister programs with large caseloads (more than 1,000 customers) accounted for 80 percent of consumers who sought help obtaining coverage. Large caseload programs were also more likely to help individuals with complex needs such as language translation, immigration-related issues or problems reporting household income.
  • Similar to last year, 21 percent of programs had to turn away customers during surges in December and January.
  • Assister programs helped nearly 230,000 people with identity verification.
  • Assisters helped 830,000 consumers enroll during special enrollment periods (SEPs), a 30 percent increase over KFF's estimations after the first open enrollment period. However, 60 percent of insurance brokers report insurers have stopped paying commissions on SEP plans.

Despite lower enrollment growth, a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicated assister programs continue to play a vital role in helping consumers navigate a sometimes-complex enrollment process. Assister programs have continued to evolve over the course of the three ACA open enrollment periods, and the Centers for Medicare &  Medicaid Services has issued grants for navigator programs despite concerns about funding.

To learn more:
- here's the KFF survey