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Despite summer of turmoil, Md. exchange says it’s ready for 2018 enrollment

Tim Curtis//Daily Record Business Reporter//September 7, 2017

Despite summer of turmoil, Md. exchange says it’s ready for 2018 enrollment

By Tim Curtis

//Daily Record Business Reporter

//September 7, 2017

Dr. Howard Haft
Dr. Howard Haft

Last month, the Maryland Insurance Administration approved significantly higher premiums for the 2018 individual health exchange. Also last month, President Donald Trump slashed the marketing budgets for state exchanges and money to the navigators that help consumers find insurance plans.

Add to that fewer insurers on the market and a 45-day enrollment period — half of what it has been in the past — and there is a sense that the 2018 enrollment period could be tumultuous.

But Dr. Howard Haft, acting executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, said the exchange will be ready for business Nov. 1 and expects to have a good enrollment period.

“We’re optimistic,” he said. “I think Maryland will do well in what we do to provide insurance to as many people as are willing to take it.”

Through its work on the exchange in previous years, it should be in a position to be more efficient in this year’s enrollment period. Haft also said that 90 to 95 percent of enrollments happen in the first couple of days of an enrollment period.

“We do all of the same things that we have been doing and doing in I think in a more efficient and a better way year over year,” he said. “We’re optimistic about this current 2018 plan year and the open enrollment leading into the plan year.”

Over the last couple of years of open enrollment, the exchange has learned to better communicate with the different populations it tries to reach, from rural Marylanders to more urban consumers.

They have also been able to prepare for the different ways in which people buy health insurance, whether coming to a health department office in person, calling the hotline or enrolling online.

“There are so many different ways people can register and get insurance now, that there’s really no wrong door,” Haft said.

He also said Trump’s decision to slash marketing budgets will not affect the state’s campaign, which does not have its budget set federally. Those marketing efforts will begin two weeks before the enrollment period opens and include a heavier volume of advertising than in previous years by compressing it into the 45-day period.

He also dismissed the idea that a lot of discussion from Trump and others at the federal level could dissuade people from buying health insurance.

“They … hear the rhetoric from the federal level, but they don’t necessarily connect the two,” he said.  “One of the things that I think that we’re understanding from listening to our customers … people really enjoy having insurance and they’re afraid of not having insurance.”

But the higher premiums approved for 2018 could have an effect. CareFirst, the dominant insurer, will have average rate increases of 34.5 percent. Kaiser will have average rate increases of 22.5 percent.

Haft projects a decline, but not a significant one. He sees a decline of around 4,000 people happening.

With that amount of decline, the state would stay around the 6 percent of the population without insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, the state was at around 14 percent uninsured, Haft said.

“The end result is that we’re still doing so much better than we ever did before,” he said.


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