1,150 Ohioans among 106,185 consumers enrolled in Obamacare

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

During the first month of open enrollment, 106,185 Americans — including 1,150 Ohio residents — signed up for private health insurance through federal and state-run online insurance marketplaces created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday.

The national enrollment figure — which included premium-paying policyholders and those who had enrolled but not activated their policies — was significantly lower than the 500,000 consumers who were expected to enroll in the first month, based on projections from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Government officials blamed technical problems that have plagued the HealthCare.gov website from its inception for the slow take-up during the first month of enrollment, which began Oct. 1.

Government figures show only about 26,000 of those enrolled in marketplace health plans enrolled through the government website — the main portal for enrollment in 36 states, including Ohio. The remainder signed up for coverage through the 15 marketplaces run by states and the District of Columbia, which have not be hamstrung by technical glitches.

‘The marketplace is working’

“We are clearly, on Nov. 13, not where we want to be,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a conference call with reporters. But “even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplace is working, and people are enrolling.”

Enrollment figures do not tell the whole story, Sebelius said, noting that there have been nearly 27 million unique visitors on state and federal marketplace websites, and more than 3 million calls to marketplace helplines.

In addition, more than 1.5 million Americans applied for coverage through the marketplaces last month, or about 22 percent of the projected 7 million total enrollment in the marketplaces next year, according to Congressional Budget Office forecasts.

In order to meet the 7 million goal by the March 31 enrollment deadline, it would require 39,000 enrollees a day.

“We know from the numbers there is a great demand,” Sebelius said. “We can reasonably expect that these numbers will grow substantially over the next five months.”

Sebelius said she expects the number of applicants to accelerate dramatically as programmers continue to make progress on HealthCare.gov repairs. And she confirmed the Obama administration’s promise to have the website “up and running smoothly for the vast majority of users” by the end of this month.

Still, website issues — which prompted Congressional hearings and calls for Sebelius’ resignation — have effectively shortened the six-month enrollment period for many Americans. While enrollment last through end of March, consumers who want coverage beginning the first of next year must sign up by Dec. 15.

45k Ohio applications

As the clock ticks down toward the enrollment deadlines, about 45,000 Ohioans have applied for coverage through the marketplace, according to HHS.

Just over 34,000 of those applicants were deemed eligible to enroll in the marketplace, and 11,866 were also found to be eligible for federal tax credits to offset the cost of premiums and deductibles. That was slightly higher than the national rate in which about 30 percent of applicants — 326,130 — were deemed eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan with financial assistance from the government.

Anyone with income ranging from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — about $45,960 for an individual or $94,200 for a family of four — can qualify for tax subsidies to help buy health insurance through the marketplaces.

Enrollment figures released by the government Wednesday did not include applicants who had been determined to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP — the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A total of 7,535 Ohioans who applied for marketplace coverage were determined to be eligible for Medicaid or Chip. Nationwide, the figure was 396,261.

The enrollment figures also failed to include a demographic breakdown of those applying for coverage, which will be a key measure in determining the success of the marketplaces.

To keep premiums affordable for everyone, government officials have said a good portion of enrollees will have to be young, healthy adults whose premiums will help cover the higher medical costs of 0lder sicker consumers with marketplace plans.

Will young people apply?

Sebelius said the government would “add additional metrics” to marketplace enrollment at a later date, but did not have enough information to say what percentage of marketplace applicants last month were young adults.

Greg Lawson, a policy analyst with the conservative-leaning Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which opposes the health care law, said the lack of information about the people applying for marketplace coverage is more troubling than the low enrollment figures for the government website.

“The website is only part of the problem,” Lawson said. “It’s embarrassing and problematic, but those (enrollment numbers) aren’t going to be the final thing that determines whether it’s successful or not.

“Eventually, they’re going to get some of that fixed, and I would anticipate it (enrollment) probably will pick up,” he said. “The question is whose enrolling? The whole thing is predicated on young people signing up to offset costs, and we’re still skeptical that the young people who are needed will ever sign up.”

More online: To see how Ohio consumers compare to other states enrolling for new health care coverage, visit MyDaytonDailyNews.com.

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©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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