Off-exchange plans pilfer enrollees from federal marketplace

Americans frustrated by problems plaguing HealthCare.gov have been contacting insurers directly and enrolling in plans outside the federal exchange, Reuters reported. These off-exchange purchases may undermine the Obama administration's efforts to enroll 7 million uninsured Americans in the new health insurance marketplace by the end of March.

Off-exchange purchases also may deprive the federal marketplace of millions of young and healthy enrollees, giving it a higher concentration of sickly people and threatening its financial viability. 

Health insurance officials told Reuters they've received few enrollments through the federal marketplace, but traffic at their own call centers and websites has nearly doubled with inquiries from people who apparently qualify for government-subsidized plans. But if they don't qualify for a subsidy, insurers sell them coverage directly, often through individual plans not available on the exchange.

Many of these plans do not include some of the federal government's most significant insurance requirements, making them less costly and possibly more attractive to the uninsured, Reuters noted.

The administration met with executives of 12 leading health insurance companies last week, promising to clean up enrollment data sent to health plans and address challenges with direct enrollment. 

Meanwhile, as work continues to fix the troubled website, the Obama administration provided a six-week extension on the sign-up date for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace. Customers who sign up for coverage by March 31, 2014, will not face penalties, according to a fact sheet released Monday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article
- here's the CMS fact sheet (.pdf)

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