New Risk-Adjustment Policies Reduce But Do Not Eliminate Special Enrollment Period Underpayment
Author: Stan Dorn, Bowen Garrett, Marni Epstein
Millions of uninsured Americans do not sign up for available coverage despite job loss or other factors that would make them eligible for special enrollment periods (SEPs). Such periods let people enroll in nongroup insurance outside the usual open enrollment period for Marketplace coverage. Concerned that risk adjustment results in underpayment for the health risks associated with SEP enrollees, carriers rarely market their products to consumers eligible for SEPs, and many do not pay agents and brokers to enroll such consumers. To address the apparent underpayments, federal officials added enrollment duration factors that, starting in 2017, increased risk scores for SEP enrollees and other part-year members. Using individual-market claims data for 2015 from two large carriers, we found that risk adjustment did, in fact, undercompensate plans for part-year members. However, underpayment was much larger for SEP enrollees than for part-year members who joined during open enrollment periods. Short-term, urgent health problems appeared to drive enrollment more for SEP enrollees than for part-year members who signed up during open enrollment. We also found that the federal government’s enrollment duration factors will remedy underpayment for part-year members whose coverage begins during open enrollment but leave carriers significantly underpaid for SEP enrollees. For carriers to recruit rather than avoid SEP enrollees, further increases to risk adjustment for such enrollees are likely needed.