Less than a week before Obamacare enrollment closes Feb. 15, federal regulators said Monday that the average monthly premium after tax credits ranges from $47 in Mississippi to $172 in New Jersey.
The new push for enrollment comes as wait times for the federal call centers increase despite 40% more workers taking calls for HealthCare.gov, which has about 14,000 call center employees this week. Waits at the end of January averaged 2½ minutes; midafternoon waits Monday were closer to 15 to 20 minutes.
The average monthly premium after tax credits for health insurance policies on HealthCare.gov is $105, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Monday report showed. That’s up from an average of $82 a month last year.
Almost 6.5 million consumers qualify for an average “advanced premium tax credit” of $268 per month through the federal exchange that serves those in the 37 states that didn’t set up their own marketplace, HHS says.
Some Americans have assumed they wouldn’t be able to afford insurance because they haven’t seen the prices after subsidies, says Laura Adams, senior analyst with InsuranceQuotes.com, an online way to shop and compare insurance rates.
“I don’t think enough people know that the subsidies can really help them,” she says.
Many people don’t know the tax credits go directly to insurance companies, so consumers pay only the net premium after the subsidy is figured in, Adams says. She says it will be helpful for consumers to see these net premiums, so they can make more informed decisions.
Premium tax credits reduced consumers’ monthly premiums by 72%, the new federal report found. The average monthly premium for 2015 coverage dropped from $374 before tax credits to $105 after tax credits.
Stride Health, a recommendation and enrollment site, boasts it can get people signed up for insurance — including with tax credits — in less time than it would take to reach a HealthCare.gov call center worker.
Noah Lang, Stride’s CEO and co-founder, says the site addresses two ways people need help with accessibility, both in finding plans that include their doctors and figuring out how to find the affordable care the Affordable Care Act promises.
“We get people covered, get their tax subsidies and get them on their way,” Lang says.
Wait times were so long before the Dec. 15 deadline to get insurance that took effect Jan. 1 that consumers were told it would take a week to get called back. The deadlines were extended for those consumers who left their names, just as it will be if that happens this weekend, says Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Call center workers seem better trained in both insurance and customer service this year, says Brenda Cardenas, an insurance navigator with Arizona Alliance of Community Health Centers.
“If reps aren’t courteous, people are going to get frustrated faster, and they’re going to give up faster,” Cardenas says.
In fact, call center workers are so polite this year, it can get almost annoying, says Laurie Zimmerman, a navigator with Insure Quad Cities in Davenport, Iowa.
“They say ‘I’m sorry’ way too many times,” she says.
“It can be very annoying if they keep repeating the same thing and they are not resolving the issue,” says Rich Fox, a telemarketing and fundraising consultant based in Carmel Valley, Calif. “The key to managing any (call center) enterprise is the reps must be able to resolve the issues.”
Often, Fox says, that means updating the scripts the workers are given to reflect the most common problems consumers have.
That might address one of the problems Zimmerman has found: “You can call HealthCare.gov three different times and get three different answers.”
Private companies that help sign up consumers are a viable alternative as the deadline approaches. But the private companies can’t help people with one of the peskiest issues that have faced consumers on HealthCare.gov — being locked out of their accounts.
Call center workers have become much more proficient at unlocking consumers’ accounts this year, which remains an issue because many people forget their passwords, user names or both, Cardenas says. Last year, the workers would tell people to create new accounts, which tended to create more confusion and is a particularly bad idea this year for those re-enrolling, she says.