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Health Plan Enrollment Up In Twin States

Friday, January 02, 2015
About 9,500 people in New Hampshire used the state’s federally operated online exchange to sign up for new health insurance policies during the first 30 days of an open enrollment period that began Nov. 15, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced this week.

Including those who were already covered by the so-called New Hampshire Marketplace policies in November, a total of 23,210 individuals in New Hampshire signed up for coverage during that period, which began the second wave of enrollment for health insurance policies in a market created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

That slightly exceeded the volume of sign-ups on the state-operated Vermont Health Connect market for health insurance, where 21,709 Vermonters signed up to be covered by individual policies during the first 28 days of the open enrollment.

Dec. 15 was the deadline to sign up for coverage that would take effect in January. As in 2014, tax penalties could hit individuals without health insurance through employers, government programs or through the ACA-created marketplaces. The penalties are set to increase in 2015.

The 50-state report on the latest sign-up season shows that nationwide, more than 4 million people selected plans for the first time or re-enrolled in what the administration called “an encouraging start.” More than 3.4 million people enrolled using HealthCare.gov as of Dec. 15, and more than 600,000 people selected plans in the state-run marketplaces. The figures are generally up-to-date through Dec. 13.

About half of those enrolling are first-timers and half are returning customers, suggesting there are about 2 million Americans new to the program.

The figures look good for the administration meeting its goal of 9.1 million customers signed up and paying premiums in 2015, independent experts said. But they predicted the program won’t meet another target: the 13 million enrollments forecast by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in 2015.

“It would take a massive surge in enrollment over the next six weeks” to reach 13 million, said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Other experts believe that for the program to be sustainable it would have to exceed the goal set by the administration.

“I really think they need to get to 13 million this year to have a sustainable program, not this low-ball estimate that nobody takes seriously,” said Washington, D.C.-based health care consultant Robert Laszewski. “We don’t know how many of these people are going to pay. And we don’t know how many of the existing people are going to re-enroll.” Young adults still aren’t flocking to the program, which could increase costs down the road. About 24 percent of the enrollees are 18 to 34 years old, an age group needed to offset the costs of older, sicker enrollees and keep premiums from rising.

That’s about the same proportion of young people signing up in the first three months of last enrollment season. Laszewski and other independent experts say that should be closer to 40 percent to help keep premiums down.

The one-year-old marketplaces for individual health insurance policies are only one of the measures in the ACA intended to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, a key goal of the controversial law.

So judging the success of the law requires consideration of other evidence, including the impact of state changes to raise the income ceiling for eligibility for Medicaid coverage, provisions aimed at persuading more small businesses to offer health insurance to employees and the changes in the health insurance plans offered by larger employers.

Such plans continue to be the source of health insurance for most covered Americans.

In New Hampshire, more than 33,000 individuals applied for coverage in the first 30 days of this year’s open enrollment, and nearly 20,000 were found to be eligible for tax credits that would reduce their monthly premiums. About 16,000 of those eligible went ahead and signed up for coverage. Another 5,000 applicants were found to be eligible for Medicaid.

During last year’s open enrollment period on the exchange, more than 40,000 of New Hampshire’s 1.2 million residents signed up for coverage. Another 10,800 were added to the Medicaid rolls.

Nearly as many Vermonters — 38,000 — signed up for coverage last year, although the state has only 660,000 residents. An additional 81,000 were added to the Medicaid rolls.

The federal report includes figures for 14 state marketplaces including Washington, D.C., and the 37 states using HealthCare.gov. It doesn’t include people who are being automatically re-enrolled in health plans because that re-enrollment process happened on the federal marketplace from Dec. 16 through Dec. 18.

The numbers are significantly larger than during the first month of enrollment last year when HealthCare.gov was plagued with technical problems. Then, the nationwide sign-up total after the first month was 106,000.

This year, open enrollment runs through Feb. 15. People enrolling by that date will get coverage starting March 1. Current customers can still make plan changes through Feb. 15.

“Interest in the Marketplace has been strong during the first month of open enrollment,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “We still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do before February 15, but this is an encouraging start.”

The administration noted that about 87 percent of people who selected health plans through HealthCare.gov will get financial assistance. The health care law provides taxpayer-subsidized private insurance to people who don’t have access to coverage through their jobs.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.

CORRECTION

More than 4 million people in state or federal health exchanges signed up for the first time or reenrolled in coverage for 2015 during the first month of open enrollment. A headline in Friday’s Valley News incorrectly described their status.




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