How to think about the latest Obamacare delay

November 22, 2013

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As Alex Wayne first reported last night, the Obama administration is sliding back next year's open enrollment period by one month. Open enrollment will begin on Nov. 15 rather than Oct. 15, shifting it exactly 11 days after the 2014 elections.

There is both a political story and a policy story going on here. The political story is one about shifting open enrollment until after Election Day, meaning that many shoppers won't get their first peak at 2015 premiums until after they head to the voting booth. The whole idea with an Oct. 15 open enrollment start was to align the exchange open enrollment period with Medicare's open enrollment period. That won't be happening anymore.

There's also a policy story. One longstanding complaint from insurers has been they'd have to set rates for 2015 by the start of April. With open enrollment ending on March 31, it'd be really difficult to know how sick of a group they got--and how they should factor that into next year's rates. What this decision also does, then is shift the deadline back from April to May for when insurance companies need to file their rates. That gives them an extra month to crunch the numbers on who bought their products.

This, then, begs a question: Does a delay in the insurance filing deadline necessitate a delay in the open enrollment period? You could imagine a world where insurers file their rates in May and the marketplace still opens in October, leaving about a six-month period for rate review.

The other important policy angle here has to do with a possible extension of this year's open enrollment period. If the administration wanted to extend open enrollment past March 31 and into April, that would be a whole lot easier to do if rates weren't due until after April. The administration hasn't done that yet, but it could be seen as cracking a door open to that possibility.

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Sarah Kliff · November 22, 2013