Clarifying, Eliminating and Enforcing Special Enrollment Periods

Health Insurance Marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan

As the Health Insurance Marketplace grows and matures, we continue to listen and learn to find ways to make it work even better for consumers and those who serve consumers. We know that each year, as the Marketplace evolves, we must seek to continually adapt and refine the way we operate. In addition to continually improving the consumer experience, we also must make changes to keep the Marketplace vibrant, stable and strong.

The fundamental principles to achieve this are simple: the Marketplace must be attractive for consumers, and the Marketplace must be attractive for insurance companies that offer plans on it.

Consumers need to know that affordable options are available and that insurers are competing for their business. We know that consumers want affordable health care and value the insurance they’re finding at the Health Insurance Marketplaces. This Open Enrollment we’ve seen a significant influx of new consumers – many of them young – making it clear there is still a large untapped market for insurance companies to serve.

The Marketplace must also be attractive to insurers, so that they make quality plans available at affordable prices and continue to drive innovation, and so consumers can find plans that meet their health and budget needs. Building an attractive Marketplace starts with establishing a predictable, stable set of rules that help to keep the risk pool balanced. As the Marketplace grows and evolves, we continue to analyze data to understand how our rules are impacting insurers and consumers and to make sure they are working to sustain a stable Marketplace. By having clear rules for how the Marketplace operates and making adjustments when needed, we are creating a more stable rate environment with more affordable plan choices for consumers.

One of the areas we have been reviewing closely is the special enrollment periods we offer. Special enrollment periods are an important way to make sure that people who lose their health insurance during the year or who experience a major life change like getting married or having a child, have the opportunity to enroll in coverage through the Marketplaces. People who experience these qualifying events have the opportunity to enroll in coverage outside of the normal Open Enrollment period from November 1 to January 31, similar to how enrollment works in the employer market. In addition, in the first two years of the Marketplace, a number of special enrollment periods were created for consumers who were still learning how to enroll in coverage for the first time.

As the Marketplace matures and consumers learn more about how and when to enroll, we continue to review the rules around special enrollment periods in order to keep them fair for consumers and for issuers. We are taking initial steps in adjusting how special enrollment periods work – and will continue to make further adjustments in the future based on what we learn from continued monitoring and analysis of special enrollment period usage and compliance.

The action we are taking today announces the elimination of several unnecessary special enrollment periods, clarifies the definitions of other special enrollment periods, and provides stronger enforcement so that special enrollment periods serve the purpose for which they are intended and do not provide unintended loopholes.

  1. Eliminating Unnecessary Special Enrollment Periods: Last month, we announced that the Tax Season special enrollment period will no longer be offered. Today we are announcing the elimination of six other special enrollment periods that are no longer needed. Just as the Marketplace evolves, so too does consumer behavior. The rules we use to operate the Marketplace need to keep up with these changes. As such, special enrollment periods are no longer available for:
    • Consumers who enrolled with too much in advance payments of the premium tax credit because of a redundant or duplicate policy
    • Consumers who were affected by an error in the treatment of Social Security Income for tax dependents
    • Lawfully present non-citizens that were affected by a system error in determination of their advance payments of the premium tax credit
    • Lawfully present non-citizens with incomes below 100% FPL who experienced certain processing delays
    • Consumers who were eligible for or enrolled in COBRA and not sufficiently informed about their coverage options
    • Consumers who were previously enrolled in the Pre-Existing Condition Health Insurance Program

We’ll continue to monitor how special enrollment periods are used and may make changes in the future as Marketplace systems and operations continue to improve.

  1. Clarifying Eligibility: Our review of current special enrollment periods also showed that some of the eligibility guidelines need to be further clarified so consumers can understand the intent and so they will not be abused. Today we are updating guidance to more clearly define the special enrollment period that is available to consumers who permanently moved, and as a result, gained access to new health plans. Specifically, we clarify that this special enrollment period cannot be used for a short-term or temporary move where the consumer doesn’t plan to stay in their new location, including situations in which a consumer is admitted to a hospital for treatment in a different area. This clarification is intended to assist consumers, brokers, issuers and others in understanding who is eligible for this special enrollment period.

If we identify other areas where the rules for special enrollment periods are unclear, we will issue additional clarifying guidance as needed.

  1. Enforcing the Rules: Finally, we will take steps to make sure that consumers understand and comply with the rules. We will conduct an assessment of plan selections that are made through certain special enrollment periods to evaluate whether consumers properly accessed coverage. Our program integrity team will pull samples of consumer records nationally and may request additional information from some consumers or take other steps to validate that consumers properly qualified for these special enrollment periods. The findings from the assessment will help us to inform future policy and operational improvements to enhance program integrity. Additional details will be provided in the coming weeks.

 We will also emphasize more strongly to applicants that the law requires that consumers provide accurate information to the Marketplace, and they may be subject to penalties under federal law if they intentionally provide false or untrue information.

There is still time for consumers who need coverage to enroll during the Open Enrollment period that ends on January 31st. While there will continue to be special enrollment periods for people who lose coverage mid-year or experience other life changes, this channel for enrollment will not be available for the vast majority of consumers. For example, special enrollment periods are not allowed for people who choose to remain uninsured and then decide they need health insurance when they get sick.  Consumers who do not currently have other health insurance coverage should enroll through the Marketplace now during these last two weeks of Open Enrollment, to make sure they have coverage if they get sick and to avoid the tax penalty.

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