On the health reform front, a lot has happened in 2014, and, the way things are looking, 2015 should be just as crazy. We thought we’d take a couple minutes to review some of the high points of this past year. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll share some of our predictions for 2015.
2014 started, of course, halfway through the ACA’s Initial Enrollment Period. The first three months were a little rocky, but as the year began many of the major Healthcare.gov glitches had been repaired. In the end, the first enrollment period was a success: nearly 8 million people signed up for qualified plans, millions more signed up for Medicaid or CHIP, and the uninsured rate fell for the first time in a long time. Brokers, as expected, played a big role in that success, and it’s now clear that they will continue to play a significant role going forward. The government did not build a better mousetrap, so people still need good advisors.
Because the federal government failed to deliver a “do-it-yourself” enrollment system, private exchanges continued to grow in popularity all year long. Backed by a call center staffed with licensed agents, this solution helps brokers maximize their time and increase their sales exponentially.
The employer mandate final rules were also released early in 2014 – on February 9th. Brokers and employers had eagerly awaited these rules since the proposed rules were issued at the end of 2012. The final rules provided transition relief for groups with fewer than 100 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), allowing those who were not already offering coverage another year before they have to start. For groups with more than 100 FTEs, the penalty for not offering group health coverage in 2015 was decreased by up to $100,000.
In March, we learned that the one-year transitional plan option would be extended until October, 2016, allowing some individuals and small employers to renew their non-ACA-compliant plans for the next three years. This option helped healthy small employers delay the inevitable rate increases for a while and, for many companies, allowed them to hang on to their group health plan just a little bit longer. Recent articles, though, point to the growing trend of small employers dropping their group health coverage so their employees can access the subsidies in the individual market.
April saw the resignation of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was replaced by Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Burwell focused on repairing some of the problems with Healthcare.gov and increasing awareness of the law during her first few months in the position. It’s important to remember that HHS is a huge agency to does a lot more than just health reform. This fall’s ebola scare certainly required a lot of the agency’s attention.
During the downtime between enrollment periods, a few rules and regulations were issued, the administration found itself on the losing side of some big court decisions, including the famous Hobby Lobby case, and the GOP won big on election day. The decision by the Supreme Court to hear the King vs. Burwell case challenging the legality of the subsidies in states using the Federally-Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) along with threats by Republicans to de-fund the ACA should make 2015 very interesting.
As of tomorrow, we’re halfway through this year’s open enrollment period, and so far it’s been quite successful. 6.5 million people have already made plan decisions through the FFM, and 30% are new customers. Another million or so have signed up through states that built their own exchange. This includes sales made directly through the carriers’ sites and sales made through private exchanges.
All in all, it’s been a pretty good year. We’re all still employed, and brokers who managed their time well actually saw their income rise this past year. Next year promises to be even more lucrative, so tune in tomorrow for our 2015 predictions.