Health sign-ups gaining steam

FILE - This Nov. 27, 2013, file photo shows part of the HealthCare.gov website page featuring information about the SHOP Marketplace is photographed in Washington, on Nov. 27, 2013. Trying to limit election-year damage on health care, the Obama administration Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, granted business groups another delay in a much-criticized requirement that larger firms cover their workers or face fines. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)
FILE - This Nov. 27, 2013, file photo shows part of the HealthCare.gov website page featuring information about the SHOP Marketplace is photographed in Washington, on Nov. 27, 2013. Trying to limit election-year damage on health care, the Obama administration Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, granted business groups another delay in a much-criticized requirement that larger firms cover their workers or face fines. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)

While still short of goals, the totals are up. The Phila. area is among leaders.

Posted: February 14, 2014

Southeastern Pennsylvania is among the top regions in the country for enrollment in the federal insurance marketplace, which officials said Wednesday grew significantly nationwide in January.

The Obama administration said about one million people signed up for private insurance under the health law last month through federal and state marketplaces combined, extending a turnaround from early days when dysfunctional websites frustrated consumers.

The new national numbers show that nearly 3.3 million people enrolled from Oct. 1 through Feb. 1 - still significantly short of the government's initial target of seven million by the end of March, six weeks away.

An additional 3.2 million were determined by the marketplaces to be eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. That number includes 105,000 in New Jersey, well above what some larger states managed.

New Jersey data were not available for either Medicaid or private marketplace insurance in local counties. In Philadelphia and its suburban counties, however, about 50,000 people have selected commercial plans, more than 70 percent of the administration's goal.

Officials of several independent organizations working to get people insured said that Joanne Grossi, regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services, told them during a Monday meeting in her Philadelphia office that the area had achieved the second-highest percentage in the federal marketplace, after Miami.

The ranking was among cities in the 36 states that let the federal government run their insurance exchange. Some of the biggest cities, including New York and Los Angeles, are in states that created their own insurance marketplaces.

Grossi's office said she was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment. An HHS spokesman in Washington said he could not confirm local statistics, which were described in nearly identical terms by four organizations whose representatives attended the meeting.

"We're really excited," said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, who reviewed what was presented at the meeting.

She attributed the region's success to an "all-hands-on-deck approach," with many organizations and communities doing outreach. Some banded together to create InsurePa, which hosts a free phone number that people can call (1-855-486-9331) to be screened and referred to a counselor for help applying for insurance.

Asked about the numbers, others in the field said they made sense.

"There is more friendliness toward the Affordable Care Act in Southeastern Pennsylvania" than some other parts of the country, said Laura Line, who oversees enrollment efforts for Resources for Human Development, a nonprofit. And the insurers here "have been very cooperative and flexible," she added.

Still, advocates said they were worried that many would remain without coverage because Pennsylvania has not yet expanded Medicaid. The federal law used an expansion to cover people with incomes too low to qualify for subsidies on the exchanges. The Supreme Court decided states could opt out.

"We are not so successful yet," cautioned Carol Rogers, executive director of Healthy Philadelphia, a nonprofit that works on long-term health challenges like insurance. But she said she was "thrilled" with the numbers so far.

National and state data released at a teleconference with reporters Wednesday showed that nearly 124,000 in Pennsylvania had enrolled in the federal marketplace and selected a plan since Oct. 1.

Nearly 55,000 had done so in New Jersey.

The report also included numbers of people whom the marketplaces determined eligible for Medicaid and CHIP.

In New Jersey, which has opted to expand, more than 100,000 qualified. In Pennsylvania, 29,000 did. The marketplace determinations were to be forwarded to the state agencies, which do the actual enrollments. The marketplace numbers do not include people who applied directly to the states.

Nationally, "we're seeing a healthy growth in enrollment," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

Officials are unable to say how many of the newly covered came from the ranks of the uninsured - the ultimate test of President Obama's overhaul. They also don't know how many have sealed the deal by paying premiums.

The numbers also showed an uptick in young adults signing up, now 25 percent of the total. Officials expect a last-minute surge of 18- to 34-year-olds before open enrollment ends March 31. Their premiums are needed to help with the cost of care for older adults.

Overall, 4 in 5 of those signing up were eligible for financial assistance with their premiums or out-of-pocket expenses.

The law requires most people to have insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty. There are exceptions for those who are unable to find affordable insurance. People who live in states, like Pennsylvania, that have not expanded Medicaid are exempt.

While the national numbers are improving, the new report shows huge differences and surprising twists at the state level.

A dozen states have met or surpassed targets, including New York, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. The first three have Democratic governors. The latter three are led by Republicans.


dsapatkin@phillynews.com

215-854-2617 @DonSapatkin

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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