It seems the people up in Washington D.C. can’t make up their minds. Last year’s initial enrollment period, as we all know, began October 1st and ended March 31st. This year, though, instead of six months to get people enrolled, this year we only have three – the open enrollment period started November 15th and ends February 15th. And next year it looks like they’ll chop another two weeks off the enrollment period. HHS has proposed that it begin October 1st and end December 15th. The decision is not yet finalized.
The good thing about the proposed enrollment period is that it will end before the holidays. It will also force everyone to make a decision about whether to be covered or not on January 1st. The bad thing, though, is that it will give agents even less time to sign people up; it will overlap almost completely with the Medicare Annual Election Period, which runs from October 15th through December 7th; and it will also overlap with the busy enrollment period for employer-based plans.
Before you get too upset about the negatives, though, there are a couple things to consider. First, if most employers are making decisions about what to do with their health coverage at the same time their employees are exploring their options in the individual market, it may create more pressure for companies to drop coverage and let their employees access the subsidies. As it stands now, the individual decisions aren’t as urgent with a February end date for the open enrollment period, so a lot of employees aren’t even aware of the financial assistance they may qualify for – they haven’t started shopping yet, so there’s not much backlash for employers who choose to block their employees from the government subsidies.
Second, overlapping the individual open enrollment period with the Medicare and group open enrollment periods will force agents to choose which segment they want to focus on – it will be difficult to do all three. This will create an opportunity for agents who continue to focus on the individual market because there will be less competition from other brokers, and agents who have their own private exchange site will be at a huge advantage from a time management standpoint.