CCIIO Director Gary Cohen looks ahead to 2015 exchange landscape

The first round of open enrollment may not end until March 31, 2014, but it's not too early to start focusing on 2015 exchange game plans, according to Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO).

Insurers soon will have to start the process for submitting plan data and getting plans certified for 2015. "That timeline is approaching rapidly," he said yesterday during his opening keynote speech at the AHIP Fall Exchange Program in Washington, D.C.

A little more than two months into the exchange rollout and federal health officials already are using lessons learned to guide 2015 implementation. This year, open enrollment began on Oct. 1 and will end March 31, 2014, for coverage starting in 2014. Learning from the rocky start, the government pushed back next year's open enrollment to Nov. 15, 2014, through Jan. 15, 2015, for coverage to start in 2015.

The November start date will provide insurers with more time to submit plans and determine 2015 premium rates based on experiences in 2014, as well as give feds additional time to review plans for certification, Cohen explained.

Learning from this fall's rollout, federal health officials realized the opportunity for them to review plan data for accuracy was too compressed and led to several correction windows to allow insurers to make changes.

"We're hoping to improve that process and provide more opportunity so we get it right the first time," Cohen said.

While the deputy administrator was happy with the number of participating insurers and available plans this year, he anticipates more entrants in 2015.

The industry will have more knowledge about the demographics of the risk pool, allowing insurers to make more informed decisions about participation next year. It also has the potential to prompt those still in wait-and-see mode to jump into the new online marketplaces, Cohen noted.

In addition to new exchange participants, next year may see new ways to enroll consumers. So far, insurers have given the direct enrollment process mixed reviews, Cohen said, thanks in part to legal restrictions that prevent the government from delegating to insurers eligibility determination and verification of federal data. So the government is working with insurers to come up with a simpler alternative.

Looking ahead to 2015, increased consumer awareness will help move the new online marketplaces forward. Before the Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment, Cohen cited the fact that no one had heard of the Affordable Care Act or knew anything about the health insurance exchanges as the biggest concern.

"Boy, we've cured that problem," he said. "Even though the publicity that we got in October and into November was not good, I venture to say there is not a living, breathing American who hasn't heard now what the the Affordable Care Act is, what HealthCare.gov is and what the marketplaces are."

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