Federal health officials said Tuesday they anticipate the toughest sign-up season yet, as they press to get about 10.5 million uninsured Americans enrolled under the Affordable Care Act.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials said they will push to enroll more uninsured in the health law's third open enrollment period that begins in about six weeks, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
The effort will focus on expanding coverage to the uninsured who are eligible for coverage through the public insurance exchanges in five targeted areas: Dallas, Houston, northern New Jersey, Chicago and Miami, according to a report in the New York Times. "Over all, this open enrollment period is going to be tougher than last year," HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a speech at Howard University Hospital.
The pool of eligible people who do not have coverage has shrunk as many have signed up for health insurance over the past two enrollment periods. And with an improved economy, more people are getting coverage through their employers, Burwell added.
The challenge will be signing up those who have declined to purchase health insurance in the first two enrollment seasons. About half of those who qualify for coverage on the exchanges are young people ages 18 to 34, Burwell said. Almost 40 percent of the eligible uninsured have incomes that would qualify them for tax credits to help pay premiums and discounts to reduce their co-payments and out-of-pocket costs. About one-third are members of minority groups.
As part of its outreach effort, HHS plans to use email and social media campaigns to encourage people to sign-up and make people aware of financial assistance.
According to enrollment statistics released earlier this month, almost 10 million people have signed up for health insurance through the ACA. That was a slight decrease from a count of 10.2 million as of March 31 but still on track toward the Obama administration's goal of enrolling 9.1 million individuals in ACA plans by the end of the year. The decrease resulted as some people had their insurance canceled because they failed to pay their premiums and more than 400,000 could not adequately answer questions about their citizenship or immigration status.
The government has been successful in getting more minorities enrolled. Coverage expansion has extended to the Hispanic community, with its uninsured rate down to 28.5 percent as of mid-August, according to government data. Yet this demographic remains one of the most underserved by both providers and payers.