Report on first week of open enrollment season for 2016 health insurance

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November 7, 2015 by Tony Novak

This was a surprisingly busy week for my Freedom Benefits web site. My role is limited to providing general advice to consumers and small business owners. I typically refer 4 out of 5 to another firm for specific help with insurance. I am pleased to work with a network of insurance companies that provide great service and person-to-person accountability that allows me to make a referral knowing that the request will be properly handled. It seems that enrollment systems were busy but not overloaded across the industry. Response time was, on average, less than 24 hours for those who requested assistance.

I presume that much of the increased activity this week stems from the open enrollment season at the state and federal insurance exchange. Yet some portion of new web site users were operating on their own time schedule that had nothing to do with the open enrollment season. Some callers report that they were not able to find personal attention at Healthcare.gov or their state web site. Others incorrectly assumed that they might find a better price by “shopping around“. I let them know that health insurance is the same price no matter where you get it. The only difference is the level of service. Generally, those who rely on a government subsidy must use the state or federal exchanges while higher income individuals can usually get better service through a private insurance exchange.

This year I am experimenting with an expansion of chat service with automatic language translation. A growing portion of users speak Spanish, I do not, and this posed an obstacle in the past. We do not yet have enough experience with this system to make an evaluation.

There seemed to be an even mix of individuals looking for help with individual coverage, small business plans, those looking for primary coverage and those looking for supplemental insurance. I can potentially earn a hundred dollars or more helping a small business but less than $10 helping an individual. So the motivation is much greater to attract small business owners but we treat every request for help with the same level of priority.

One surprise was that a handful of individuals using the insurance exchanges did not realize that today’s health insurance policies treat all pre-existing conditions the same as any other covered expense. A few people began to give me their medical history presuming that this would be needed to determine eligibility. We need to do a better job getting the word out that your previous medical history has no bearing on your eligibility for insurance or your benefits in the future.

Interest in dental insurance and non-insured dental savings plans is strong. We will monitor this over the enrollment season to look for trends in consumer preference.

Finally, I mentioned to a few individuals that new deductible supplement insurance policies will be available later in November for 2016. It seems to make sense to wait a few weeks before choosing a deductible supplement policy.

Based on this first week, I expect to work with an average of about 5 individuals per day through Freedom Benefits or another OnlineNavigator web site for the rest of the year. In most cases my primary function will be to discuss overall health care financial planning and arrange to have a benefits enroller contact them to review coverage options and take the enrollment application. Some portion will need help with employer-sponsored health plans.

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