The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) began on October 1. The first days were filled with computer glitches and website crashes as millions of Americans tried to log on to the various health exchange sites to figure out how much they will pay for health insurance in 2014.
Now that more time has passed and some of the Web problems are in the process of being resolved, I thought it would be interesting to see if any of the states had released data about their first days involved in the health exchange. Maryland, which was one of the biggest supporters of the new health care reform laws, has released some data that was current as of Friday, October 11.
Is Maryland Part of the Federal Marketplace?
Although funded with federal dollars, Maryland opted to create its own health exchange rather than participate in the federal marketplace. This allows the state to run the health exchange with less government interference. As long as the policies sold are compliant with the mandates set forth by the ACA, states are able to manage them in the way that works best for them.
There are currently six companies that are participating in the Maryland Health Connection, and they offer a combined total of approximately 45 different insurance plans for health consumers to choose from.
How Many People in Maryland Are Uninsured?
There are about 800,000 people in the state of Maryland who are currently uninsured. Officials hope that by the time the open enrollment period ends in March of 2014, over a third of these individuals will have insurance—either by having purchased a policy through the health exchange or by qualifying for Medicaid.
Maryland is one of the states that expanded its Medicaid program, which means more people are eligible for state-managed health care. This is a type of health insurance that is available for low-income residents. The state anticipates adding approximately 100,000 more people onto its Medicaid rolls.
Who Is Using the Maryland Health Exchange?
As of October 11, the Maryland Health Connection had logged over 200,000 visitors to its site. This number only includes unique visitors and does not take into account any health consumers who left the website and returned to it at a later time. This is a substantial number, and one that has health insurance experts in the state feeling optimistic about the number of people who want to enroll in a health plan on the exchange.
In addition to the people who visited the website, the Maryland Health Connection call center received nearly 16,000 calls. Over half of the people who either created an account or called the call center were women, and the predominant age group consisted of people between 25 and 29 years old.
How Many People Purchased a Policy on the Maryland Exchange?
Despite the high volume of traffic on the website and through the call center, very few people have actually purchased a policy on the health exchange. In fact, there had been just slightly over 1,000 people who‘d enrolled as of October 11.
Part of the problem is that the majority of people who visited the site never made it to the last step in the process, which is when the final plan choice is made and enrollment can take place. This can be attributed in part to the numerous website problems and glitches that have plagued most of the country’s health exchanges.
However, I have to wonder how many people did not follow through and enroll in a policy because they had no real idea of what they were supposed to be doing. It appears that Maryland has created an entirely new page designed solely to help people understand what they need to do in order to enroll in a health plan. This indicates that there is an overload of information, most of it beyond the average health consumer’s understanding.
Why This Does Not Surprise Me
Health insurance under the best of circumstances is fraught with confusing (and often conflicting) information; it can be extremely difficult for people without experience to become properly informed. Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act is proving that it in no way qualifies as the best of circumstances!
One of my many concerns about the ACA and how it is affecting Americans of all demographics is that, frankly, people have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to health insurance or how these changes in the health care landscape brought about by Obamacare will affect them.
No matter how intelligent you are, health insurance is difficult to become truly knowledgeable about. Add to this the fact that the insurance navigators who are supposed to be helping you on the exchanges have very little training and you have opened the door wide for problems.
I have made no secret of my opinion that the Affordable Care Act is bad news for the American people on a variety of levels. For me, the data released from Maryland solidifies that opinion even more. I have to wonder how many of the 1,000 people who enrolled in a health plan even know what they purchased. This could definitely create problems in the future if they suffer an illness or injury and need a service that is not covered.
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
One thing I want to remind people, especially as some of the issues with the various health exchanges are worked out and the process (hopefully) becomes easier, is that you do not have to make your insurance purchase on any of the health exchanges.
By this, I mean that while the ACA is an undeniable fact of life, you are not limited to purchasing a policy on the federal marketplace or your state health exchange. You have the option to talk with a licensed and experienced insurance agent or broker who can give you options and help you make the appropriate decision for your own unique health care scenario.
I think this is by far the best way to handle the purchase of a health insurance policy. Although for most people price is certainly a factor that has to be taken into consideration, I do not believe that buying a policy only because it is the cheapest is a smart move for anyone.
The team of Personal Advisors at HSA for America is made up of highly trained and experienced agents. They can help you make a decision about your health care based on your lifestyle, your income, and what you are looking for in a policy. They can walk you through the process of figuring out if you will qualify for any tax credits or subsidies, and help you look at all of your insurance options—not just the ones offered on the health exchange.
Please call us at 866-749-2039 to learn more about how we can help you as the health insurance industry continues to change. Our services are absolutely free, and there’s never any obligation to buy.
Wiley Long is President of HSA for America, and a passionate advocate for consumer-based solutions that will improve price transparency and lower health insurance and medical costs for people purchasing individual and family health insurance plans.