Rural Americans pose challenges for HIX enrollment

Enrolling rural Americans in health insurance will be one of the biggest problems insurers face during this fall enrollment period, reports Kaiser Health News

"The feds are particularly concerned about this," Brock Slabach, senior vice president at the National Rural Health Association, told KHN.

Distance is a big obstacle, according to the article. The federal government relies on navigators, or helpers, to assist consumers in registering for health insurance via the health insurance exchanges, but rural Americans have a relatively far distance to travel to reach the closest face-to-face help of this kind. In addition, broadband limitations keep these same rural Americans from accessing help via the Internet, the publication reports.

Another tough barrier is the fact that more than 20 states decided not to operate their own health insurance exchanges. States that embraced the ACA have more federal resources and are more able to target rural Americans to boost enrollment, KHN reports.

About $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was specifically directed to rural outreach for the initial open enrollment period. For 2015, a total of $60 million will be available to bolster navigators' work in states that are using the federal marketplace, but it's not clear what portion of this amount the government will allocate to rural enrollment.

A private consortium, supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, gathered some information that examines where outreach worked in some states, the article says.

But the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services doesn't know whether or when it might release enrollment breakdowns examining geography or other demographics, which means it remains difficult to identify where to target outreach, Massey Whorley, a senior policy analyst at the Virginia-based Commonwealth Institute, told KHN.

"It's critically important we have this data well in advance of the next open enrollment," Whorley said.

Even if the barriers to garner rural Americans for beneficiaries could be overcome, two studies released this spring show that getting a piece of that uninsured marketshare will be difficult, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the KHN piece