Health Insurers Look Ahead To Open Enrollment Period

The three month open enrollment period for the federal health care exchange begins this Saturday, November 15th. The two insurers offering plans on in Alaska have very different projections on how many more Alaskans will sign up for coverage for 2015.

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Health insurance rates on the exchange are going up a lot in Alaska. Jim Grazko is President of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Premera’s rates are increasing an average of 37 percent. And Grazko says because of that, he doesn’t expect to attract many new customers:

“In general the individual market is extremely price sensitive… So in an environment where prices are going up, you’re going to probably have more reticence to jump in.”

Grazko points out the vast majority of people who buy insurance on receive a subsidy, which should cover a lot of that increase. The company is also working with the state on a plan that would make individual rates more affordable in Alaska.

Premera currently has about 7000 customers in the state who bought Affordable Care Act insurance plans. That number fell far short of the company’s ambitions for the first year. For 2015, Grazko’s goal is a lot more modest:

“We’re hoping that we can maintain what we have, or just slightly grow what we have.”

Moda Health, the other insurer on the exchange in Alaska, is more optimistic about enrollment. Moda’s prices are increasing an average of 27 percent. But Moda’s insurance plans are generally more affordable than Premera’s. Jason Gootee is with Moda’s Alaska office. He thinks the company will gain thousands of new members during open enrollment:

“We believe that there is still a large number of people who are  uninsured in Alaska, who maybe did not sign up last year in the open enrollment period. So we’re expecting that there will be another increase in enrollment but how many, it remains to be seen.”

Nationally, the Department of Health and Human Services is expecting at least 2 million more Americans to sign up for health insurance for 2015. Right now, about 7 million have Affordable Care Act coverage.

The open enrollment period lasts until February 15. After that, you can only sign up for health insurance if you have a qualifying event, like a move or a divorce.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.