Should we move open enrollment season?News added by Benefits Pro on July 1, 2014

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Joined: September 07, 2011

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By Kathryn Mayer

Would our health care system be more successful and draw more people into it if we simply moved open enrollment?

That’s what some researchers suggest. In a study published in Health Affairs, they suggest switching the open enrollment period from around the holiday season — a time of financial and other stress — to line up with a less stressful time of the year. The ideal time, they suggest, would be right after spring, when people are worrying less about holiday plans, buying Christmas gifts, and other end-of-year expenses, and also, importantly, after consumers get their tax refund.

Many hold off on buying insurance until they get their tax refund, said authors Katherine Swartz, Harvard School of Public Health, and John Graves, Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine.

Additionally, between mid-February and mid-April, people likely to be eligible for the tax credit premium subsidies will have more accurate calculations of their subsidy. Plus, consumers might be more likely to talk about buying health insurance with financial and tax advisors when they’re doing their tax prep.

As part of their analysis, Swartz and Graves looked at Google data to see what consumers searched for between January 2004 and December 2013.

According to Health Affairs, that analysis shows “that searches relating to financial concerns were highest in the summer months and just before the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. On the other hand, health insurance information searches dropped substantially between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but then rose sharply the last week of December and in early January.”

The 2015 enrollment period runs Nov. 15-Feb. 15. Shifting the open enrollment wouldn’t be a problem, the researchers argued. It would not cost much money and would not have to be voted on to change.

“Given what is known about how financial stress affects people’s bandwidth for making decisions, holding open enrollment just before or during the holiday season is a mistake,” the authors said. “The ACA’s goals of maximizing enrollment in the health plans and maintaining a healthy balance of enrollees with low and high risks of having high medical expenses are more likely to be achieved if the open enrollment season is shifted to the two months between February 15 and April 15 each year.”

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