I landed tonight back home in Nashville to learn that the Obama Administration is moving (and extending) the 2015 open enrollment period.* This is a hugely important development for uninsured Americans. And it’s fairly easy to sum up our reaction: hallelujah(!!!) – but not quite Amen.
Here’s the reason to rejoice: While the ACA itself at § 1311(c)(6)(B) provides unfettered discretion to the Secretary of HHS to set annual open enrollment periods, the Administration had insisted until now that they were bound by the open enrollment dates that it had set in regulation back in 2012 at 45 CFR § 155.410(e). The announcement tonight indicates the Administration is taking another look at the calendar with an eye to starting open enrollment when uninsured Americans are most likely to sign up. (I’m doing a celebratory dance now to show off some of my own newly-found flexibility!)
But pause the festivities? Holiday consumption will take place right in the middle of this new open enrollment period for 2015, meaning that buying holiday gifts will compete head-to-head with enrolling in health insurance. In fact, consumers are the most cash-strapped during the fourth quarter, particularly during the weeks of the new open enrollment period.** Even so, there’s reason for optimism: the Administration’s decision announced tonight inches the open enrollment period toward that magic cash flow moment beginning just a few weeks later when the IRS begins to distribute $325 billion in tax refunds.*** So the punctuating Amen may not be that far away if the Administration can now assess these issues and make the right policy call.
Bottom line: We need an open enrollment period that corresponds to the financial calendar of the families that the ACA intends to serve. And we might be getting closer to that goal!
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* As reported by Bloomberg and Politico this evening, the Administration is moving the open enrollment period for 2015 by a month and extending it by eight days (it will now be November 15, 2014 to January 15, 2015 instead of October 15 to December 7, 2014).
** Many different sources of financial data illusrate this point, but historical data about outstanding consumer credit by month reported by the Federal Reserve provides a particularly striking example; see http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/HIST/cc_hist_r_flows.html, accessed November 13, 2013. See also Berk, Christina Cheddar, “Survey: 45% of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas,” November 19, 2012, CNBC.com, available at http://www.nbcnews.com/business/survey-45-americans-would-prefer-skip-christmas-1C7155109, accessed November 13, 2013.
*** Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income Division, July 2013, Table 3.3, available online at http://www.irs.gov/uac/SOI-Tax-Stats-Individual-Income-Tax-Returns-Publication-1304-%28Complete-Report%29#_tbla, accessed November 13, 2013.