Open enrollment hurdles: Low consumer awareness, rising premiums

Though they are likely more seasoned this time around, those tasked with helping consumers navigate the Affordable Care Act exchanges must gear up for a new set of challenges when open enrollment begins this Sunday.

One glaring issue is that few consumers know when the sign-up period actually begins, according to the results of the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll. Only 17 percent of the overall public is aware of when open enrollment starts, the poll found, while that share is even smaller--15 percent--among the uninsured. Currently, consumers can window-shop on the exchanges, but cannot sign up for plans until Nov. 1.

Further, only 18 percent of uninsured individuals said they had been contacted personally about the ACA in the last six months. Yet while 51 percent of the uninsured had been without coverage for two years or more, 49 percent said they planned to get coverage in the next few months, according to the poll.

Federal officials have said they expect this to be one of the toughest sign-up periods yet, which is a fact reflected in the Obama administration's relatively modest end-of-year enrollment goal. But the penalty is also higher next year for those who forgo insurance, as it jumps to $695 or 2.5 percent of total household income.

Meanwhile, sign-up volunteers and navigators are retooling their strategies to not only reach the still-uninsured, but to also retain the exchanges' current customers amid rising plan premiums, the Wall Street Journal reports. For example, the group Insure Central Texas has started a phone bank to inform households about changing plan prices and encourage these enrollees to shop around on the exchanges. It also has been working with people who are in danger of losing their subsidies or coverage due to documentation errors, the article notes.

To aid the enrollment and retention effort, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced in September that it awarded 34 states $67 million in funding for their insurance marketplace navigator programs.

To learn more:
- here's the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll
- read the WSJ article

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