More than half (55 percent) of new public health insurance exchange consumers used live assistance or applied on paper to enroll in the 2016 Open Enrollment period, versus 42 percent of all public HIX active enrollments. Since newer consumers are clearly most in need, live assistance will remain critical for market expansion, even if there is an overall shift toward more online enrollment capabilities.
Youth and ethnicity
The young in particular needed live help in finalizing their plan selection: 68 percent of 18-26 year olds sought assistance, versus half of all other public HIX active enrollments. Furthermore, African American and Hispanic consumers—groups still over-represented in the uninsured—were more likely to use assisters, navigators, insurers and web brokers to complete their enrollment. Only 44 percent of Hispanic consumers and 46 percent of African American consumers completed their enrollment with the exchange directly, versus 67 percent of all other public HIX consumers.
32 percent of public HIX consumers indicated that the shopping experience had improved, slightly fewer than in 2015, when 39 percent reported improvement. However, seventy-four percent described familiarity with the process as the main reason for the improvement. Live help is also a driver of satisfaction for assisted shoppers: 70 percent of them were satisfied with their shopping experience, versus 63 percent of the unassisted. It’s worth noting that consumers who shopped using assistance were 15 percent more likely to purchase coverage than those who were unassisted.
Once consumers find an enrollment method that works for them they tend to stick with it. Eighty-two percent of consumers who actively renewed in 2016 completed their enrollment using the same method as in the previous year: a proportion unchanged since 2015. This suggests that all channels should continue to be available, and improved where necessary. Over time, it will be necessary to reduce the cost of acquisition for public HIX enrollments through more efficient assistance methods. However, until consumers become comfortable with insurance, live assistance—or an artificial capability that replicates the experience—will remain critical to consumers trying to navigate the selection process.