Findings from the Field: Enrollment and Consumer Assistance in Four States in Year Three of the ACA

Three years into the implementation of the ACA, many states continue to streamline their eligibility and enrollment processes and refine their outreach efforts and consumer assistance programs in order to maintain and expand on the coverage gains achieved to date. Based on case studies and focus groups, this brief reviews experiences with Medicaid and Marketplace enrollment, renewal, and consumer assistance in Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, and Washington as of Spring 2016. These states implemented the Medicaid expansion and established a state-based Marketplace (SBM) in 2014. This brief builds on previous reports that examined states’ preparation for implementation prior to the initial ACA open enrollment period and their experiences after completion of the first and second open enrollment periods. Together, this work provides an in-depth understanding of ACA implementation from multiple perspectives, tracking and documenting experiences that may help shape efforts moving forward. Key findings from this brief include the following:

Eligibility systems worked well during OE3, with fewer glitches than previous years. States continued to enhance system functionality between OE2 and OE3, improving system performance and providing consumers enhanced options to compare plans. Some system challenges persist for certain individuals and situations, such as immigrants and families with mixed coverage types. Colorado, Connecticut, and Washington are building on their systems to make continued improvements. In contrast, Kentucky is dismantling its Marketplace system, kynect. It transitioned to a new Benefind system for Medicaid enrollment following OE3 and plans to transition to for Marketplace enrollment for OE4.

Medicaid enrollment continued to grow during OE3, but this growth began to stabilize. All four states have experienced significant increases in Medicaid enrollment since initial implementation of the ACA. The slowing of enrollment growth during OE3 reflects the fact that the states had already enrolled most of the eligible population. The remaining eligible population includes harder to reach groups who will require more intensive, targeted efforts to enroll. Medicaid retention rates are high in the four study states, with nearly 90% of enrollees successfully renewing coverage. The study states are utilizing automated Medicaid renewal processes that generally appear to be working well. Reductions in Medicaid eligibility levels for parents in Connecticut and proposed changes to the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky may affect future enrollment in these states.

Marketplace enrollment increased in three of the study states during OE3. Colorado, Connecticut, and Washington experienced growth in Marketplace enrollment; however, Marketplace enrollment in Kentucky was flat from OE3. Several factors may have contributed to the lack of enrollment growth in Kentucky, including the exit of the CO-OP plan that had offered more affordable coverage and confusion over whether coverage through kynect remained available as the newly elected Governor ran on a campaign to dismantle kynect. With improvements in system performance and greater familiarity with the renewal process on the part of consumers, Marketplace renewal generally went smoothly in the four states. However, some enrollees expressed frustration that their plans were no longer available, forcing them to find a new plan.

Affordability of coverage continues to be a barrier for many Marketplace enrollees. Many individuals lack information about the availability of subsidies to reduce premium costs, but premiums can still be unaffordable for individuals even when the subsidies are applied. In addition, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs also pose challenges for many Marketplace enrollees. Marketplace officials reported exploring strategies to provide consumers with more information on costs, including building on the decision support tools they had developed and noted the need for more education about the availability subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket costs.

Local level outreach and enrollment initiatives remained key for supporting successful enrollment and renewal. Consumer awareness of ACA coverage has increased compared to prior open enrollment periods, but there remain gaps in knowledge about the availability of financial assistance for Marketplace coverage and a continued need to educate consumers about how to use their coverage and how cost-sharing and deductibles work. During OE3, the case study states employed ongoing local level outreach and enrollment strategies that built on successful efforts from previous open enrollment periods. These initiatives included targeted efforts to reach specific populations, such as immigrants and people of color. Funding decreases led to some shifts away from broad mass media campaigns.

A broad range of individuals and organizations provided application and enrollment assistance, most of whom provided assistance in prior years. This experience, coupled with improved systems, enabled them to devote more time to outreach and helping people understand their benefits, as well as addressing post-enrollment problems and tax-related issues. Increased emphasis by the Marketplaces on finding and enrolling consumers into qualified health plans, as well as cuts to assister funding, led to some restructuring of assister networks. Future funding for consumer assistance remains a concern across the states, and particularly in Kentucky where the future role for kynectors is uncertain. Call center capacity and operations improved compared to prior years, but some challenges remained related to the quality of the assistance provided and long waits during peak times.

Looking ahead, states seek to build upon and sustain coverage gains. Three of the study states will continue to make improvements to their eligibility and enrollment systems to streamline further the enrollment and renewal processes for Medicaid and the Marketplace. They also plan to continue investments in outreach and consumer assistance efforts to find and enroll harder to reach populations, though a greater emphasis on enrolling consumers into QHPs coupled with funding constraints may lead to restructuring of navigator and other assister networks. With affordability of Marketplace coverage a concern, state officials are exploring strategies to address costs and help consumers make informed health plan choices. In contrast, efforts in Kentucky to dismantle its integrated eligibility and enrollment platform, kynect, and proposed changes to the Medicaid expansion may have implications for continued strong enrollment in Medicaid.

Issue Brief

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.