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Texans Signing Up for Obamacare Will Have More Choices This Year

Brookings Institution
Health and Human Services Department Secretary Sylvia Burwell spoke about the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplace on Sept. 23, 2014 at the Brookings Institution.

People shopping for health insurance on the federal marketplace in Texas will have more options when the enrollment period begins again later this year.

Sixteen companies will offer health insurance plans in Texas through the federal marketplace this time around, when open enrollment begins Nov. 15 for coverage starting in 2015. At the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Department Secretary Sylvia Burwell spoke about changes in the marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

"During the last open enrollment, consumers chose from an average of nearly 50 plans, and I have some news for you when it comes to choice and competition," Burwell said. "Today, we’re able to announce that in 2015 there’s been a 25 percent increase in the total number of issuers selling insurance in the marketplace."

Texas is one of the states with the most issuers – 16, and only Michigan and Ohio have that many.

"I think that what we really need to look at is in the state there are a whole bunch of rating areas," says Sam Richardson, a health economist and professor at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. Texas has 26 rating areas – essentially regions where the same insurance plans are sold. "What matters is not how many insurers are operating in the state over all, but in each rating area how many insurers are there and how robust is the competition in each rating area."

Competition tends to lead to lower prices, but we don’t yet know whether the insurance companies that were already in the marketplace will expand, or whether new ones will be available statewide.

"Insurers were very cautious about entering this new market last year when they didn’t have information about how well the market was going to work, how many people were going to sign up, whether the individual mandate was going to cause healthy people to sign up or not, and I think that insurers have seen that the premiums have not been going up dramatically," Richardson says.

So far, the Health and Human Services Department isn’t saying who the four new issuers are, but Blue Cross is among those staying. Dr. Dan McCoy is the chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

"We had a very successful first enrollment period last year," McCoy says.

About 700,000 Texans chose a Blue Cross plan, and of those, roughly 550,000 signed up through the marketplace.

"The most important thing, and really as chief medical officer is so exciting for me to see, is that in the first seven months of the year, we saw enrollees actually using their health care benefits and accessing health care services," McCoy says.

Blue Cross offers plans in all 254 counties of the state, and now it’s starting a partnership with State Farm. During the upcoming enrollment period, people will be able to buy health insurance through their State Farm insurance agent.

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