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Only 7,000 Illinoisians enroll in Obamacare plans in first 2 months

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 11:20 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 2)

(MCT) — Through two months of open enrollment in new health insurance plans created under President Barack Obama's health care law, nearly 365,000 Americans have selected policies, including 7,043 in Illinois, administration officials said Wednesday.

The numbers, which include sign-ups from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, are still short of the roughly 500,000 the Obama administration estimated would sign up in October alone, the first month of the new health insurance exchanges designed for consumers to compare and purchase health coverage.

Officials did not break out enrollment figures by month, a decision they said would eliminate double-counting some consumers, who may apply, shop and select plans in separate months. Through Oct. 31, 106,000 Americans, including 1,370 in Illinois, selected policies, according to figures released last month.

The relatively low figures underscore the tumultuous first two months of HealthCare.gov, the federal website that operates the online marketplaces for 36 states, including Illinois, which has been beset by technical problems that prevented many from completing applications.

They also come before a flurry of technology fixes implemented at the end of November that Obama administration officials say have vastly improved the experience for consumers. While the website is not without bugs, it "is now working smoothly for the vast majority of users," said Michael Hash, director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Health Reform. HealthCare.gov, he said, is "night and day from where it was Oct. 1."

Enrollment figures released Wednesday still leave unclear how many people actually bought plans. The data include individuals who paid their first month's premium and those who have selected a plan on the exchange but have yet to pay.

About 1.9 million more Americans were deemed eligible to buy coverage but didn't select a plan. More than 800,000 others were determined eligible for state-based Medicaid plans and referred to separate enrollment systems in their respective state.

Of those who were able to select a private plan on the exchanges, only 137,204, or about 38 percent, of those were in the 36 states where the federal government runs the exchange. The remaining 227,478 signed up via separate websites run by 14 states and the District of Columbia.

California led the way with 107,000 people selecting plans. In states where exchanges are run by the federal government, Florida and Texas had the biggest numbers, with 17,908 and 14,038, respectively.

Nationally, the Congressional Budget Office previously projected that about 7 million people would sign up for coverage during the six-month open enrollment period. In Illinois, officials expect about 300,000 to buy new plans offered on the exchange.

Despite the slow start to enrollment, "we think we're on track and we will reach the total," Hash said, in a Tuesday evening call with reporters, noting that the data represent two months of a six-month enrollment period.

"We expect that the bulk of enrollment will occur toward the end of open enrollment," or March 31, he said.

The figures also revealed that of the roughly 2.3 million Americans who completed applications and were determined eligible to buy a policy on the exchanges, only about 41 percent, or 944,531, qualified for federal assistance aimed to help offset the cost of buying a policy. That's a far lower percentage than the initial Congressional Budget Office estimate of about 90 percent.

Some of those numbers could be skewed by the millions of Americans who were informed by insurers this fall that their policies would be canceled at the end of the year because they didn't comply with new regulations set forth under law. A significant percentage of them are not likely to qualify for subsidies, but were among the first in line to sign up to ensure they have no gap in coverage, industry experts say.

Even those who did sign up for coverage may not be out of the woods yet.

Aside from the problems consumers experienced in trying to shop for insurance on the exchanges, the federal website also has experienced a number of back-end issues that affect the way it notifies insurance companies of their new enrollees.

Federal officials said that about 25 percent of the enrollment forms HealthCare.gov submitted to insurers in October and November had errors, including incorrect information, duplicate forms and, in some cases, missing forms. That translates to roughly 34,000 individuals.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would not confirm that figure nor say what percentage of those applications have been reconciled. The government is working with insurers and applicants to fix the problems.

As of last week, the error rate on those forms was down to about 10 percent, Bataille said.

Administration officials and insurance companies suggest that anyone who enrolls in coverage via the federal website call their insurance company to confirm they've signed up. For the plan to kick in Jan. 1, enrollees also are required to sign up for coverage by Dec. 23 and pay their insurer the first month's premium by Dec. 31.

In total, more than 39 million people have visited either federal and state-run websites through Nov. 30. Of the roughly 3.7 million people who have applied for coverage, the government has determined eligibility for about 84 percent of them.

In Illinois, 67,616 completed applications in November, up from 56,636 in October. Through the two months, 28,689 were determined eligible for some type of subsidy to purchase a private plan.

More than 30,000 others were determined eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled, and the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to federal data.

The state has separately accepted applications for these two programs from roughly 82,000 Illinoisans via its own website, abe.illinois.gov. State officials say those figures likely contain some overlap. In all, the state has received more than 206,000 new Medicaid applications through its website, a mailed application to food stamp recipients and an early expansion of the program in Cook County.

Most Americans will be required to carry insurance in 2014 or be subject to a tax penalty, which starts at $95 for an individual or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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