Most uninsured are not aware of next open enrollment cycle

A new Kaiser health tracking poll shows 90% of uninsured Americans are not aware of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) next open enrollment period.

A new Kaiser health tracking poll shows 90% of uninsured Americans are not aware of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) next open enrollment period.

Two-thirds of uninsured respondents also said they knew “only a little” or “nothing at all” about the state and federal marketplaces where plans are offered, including the federal healthcare.gov website, and a little over half didn’t know of the financial assistance available to help with the purchase of those plans.

Of uninsured respondents, 6 in 10 said they planned on getting insurance in the near future from a variety of sources, while 4 in 10 reported that they expect to remain uninsured. About 63% of uninsured respondents reported income of less than $30,000 per year.

The poll was conducted Oct. 8-14 and reached 1,503 adults 18 years of age and older by phone.

Perhaps as a way to combat the lack of awareness, the U.S Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on Oct. 15 that it would begin sending notices via U.S. mail and email to consumers who had used the federal Marketplace in the past to let them know about the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell asked physicians attending the American Academiy of Family Physicians' recent conference in Washington D.C. to spread the word about the next open enrollment period.  "We hope you'll encourage [your patients] to stay covered, and we hope you’ll encourage any uninsured patients to go ahead and take that important step and get covered,” she said, according to The Hill.

CMS said in a statement they’ve also simplified the process for re-enrolling, noting that 90% of a returning user’s online application will already be filled out.

The agency noted that an additional 1,000 phone reps will also be available to provide assistance.

READ: Consumers underestimate health plan decision making

“It’s important for people to come back to the Marketplace during open enrollment, because every year, insurance companies make changes to premiums, cost-sharing and benefits,” said CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in a press release.  The open new enrollment period “gives consumers the opportunity to shop and compare plans that may save them more money, offer more services or include more doctors in the network. We want consumers to have the most up-to-date information so they can make the right choice for them and their families,” she added.

Consumers who do not return and update their applications for the last enrollment period will generally be “auto-renewed, with the same advance tax credit premium applied to plans," CMS said in the statement.

The federal website, healthcare.gov, will also be easier to navigate, according to CMS. The enrollment process for new users may be as few as 16 steps as opposed to the 76 that enrollees faced during the first open enrollment period that ran from Oct. 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014.

Andy Slavitt, CMS’s principal deputy administrator, told the Washington Post that consumers want a more intuitive and more mobile experience. He said his agency spent five weeks testing the site’s enrollment process.

In a final twist to enrollment options, consumers who accidentally type healthcare.com instead of healthcare.gov will find themselves on competing, commercial site that compares the rates of health insurance plans from multiple providers.

That site's chief executive officer Jeff Smedsrud, compared healthcare.com to travel search site Kayak, according to the Washington Post.

Critics have warned that unsuspecting consumers may not know they’re on a commercial site, where tax credits are not available for plans.

The company also owns the healthcare.org domain.