Obamacare sees lots of shopping to save money

We need a price check on Obamacare plans in aisle two.

The federal Obamacare marketplace is seeing relatively high levels of shopping this season, with 2.18 million returning customers from 2015 switching to a different health insurance plan for 2016 — and saving money for their efforts, the government revealed Thursday.

A woman sits with an insurance agent to pick an insurance health plan under the Affordable Care Act.
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A woman sits with an insurance agent to pick an insurance health plan under the Affordable Care Act.

People who shopped around and switched plans on HealthCare.gov — which serves 38 states — will pay an average of $43 less in premiums each month, or $516 a year, officials said.

The average monthly premium for such returning customers will be $137, after factoring in federal financial assistance available to most customers. That compares with the $179 per month they would have paid, on average, if they hadn't switched plans, according to officials.

Officials have repeatedly urged existing HealthCare.gov customers to shop among the available insurance plans instead of accepting automatic re-enrollment, because of the opportunity to save money on premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

High level of engagement

The 2.18 million returning customers who opted for other plans represent 60 percent of the existing 3.6 million HealthCare.gov customers who actively re-enrolled in some form of coverage.

The remaining 1.45 million HealthCare.gov customers actively decided to re-enroll in the same plans they had for 2015, or opted for very similar plans because the plan they had last year is no longer available this year. Another 2.4 million returning HealthCare.gov customers accepted automatic re-enrollment without active shopping.

The high shopping rate among active re-enrollees is four times the rate of customers who change plans in a given year in the federal Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program or in some other federal health insurance programs, officials noted.

"People coming to the Marketplace for coverage are active, engaged and shopping to save money," said Sylvia Burwell, the secretary for Health and Human Services.

The data comes with less than two weeks left for open enrollment in plans sold on HealthCare.gov and on Obamacare marketplaces run by 12 other states and the District of Columbia. Most Americans must be enrolled in some kind of health coverage by Jan. 31 or face a fine of either $695, or 2.5 percent of household income.

About 11.5 million people so far have enrolled in an Obamacare exchange-sold plan for 2016.

Officials also said the average per-person subsidy that's being issued to returning qualified HealthCare.gov customers for 2016 plans is $295 per month, which covers about 72 percent of their gross premiums.

Most returning HealthCare.gov customers, 83 percent, qualify for such financial aid to help reduce the cost of their monthly premiums. The subsidies are available to people with low or moderate household incomes, up to four times the federal poverty level.

The average premium for those customers after the subsidy is factored in is $113, according to the data released Thursday.

Officials said that almost 70 percent of the returning HealthCare.gov customers have the option of enrolling in a health plan that would cost them less than $75 per month after subsidies.

About 60 percent of customers could get a subsidized plan that would leave them owing less than $50 per month in premiums, according to data.