40,000 Ohioans among 2.2M consumers enrolled in Obamacare

Nearly 40,000 Ohioans have chosen health plans offered on the state’s health care marketplace through the first three months of the six-month enrollment period, according to government data released Monday.

That compares to less than 6,000 Ohioans who enrolled in marketplace health plans in the first two months of enrollment, which began Oct. 1 last year, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures.

Nationwide, enrollment increased five-fold in December compared to the previous two months in which 364,000 Americans signed up for health coverage in state and federally run marketplaces created by The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That number rose by about 1.8 million last month, bringing the three-month total to 2,153,000, HHS reported.

“The marketplaces have seen a dramatic uptick in enrollment in the past month, and if that rate of growth continues, we could be seeing significantly higher numbers a month from now,” said John Bowblis, a health economist at Miami University.

But the success of the marketplaces not only depends on the total number of people who enroll, but the health mix of the covered population, which must include a significant number of young, healthy policyholders to offset the medical costs of older sicker enrollees, Bowblis said.

According to the figures released Monday, only 24 percent of total enrollment in the marketplaces included enrollees ages 18 to 34. In Ohio, only 19 percent of marketplace enrollees were between ages 18 and 34.

“It’s not as bad as some people expected it to be; people were saying that no young people would sign up,” Bowblis said. “But we need to start seeing more young people signing up if we want to keep premiums where they are now.”

Only a handful of other state’s had fewer young people signing up than Ohio. West Virginia had the lowest rate of 18- to 34-year-olds enrolling in its marketplace plans at 17 percent; while Utah had the highest percentage at 29 percent.

Chris Brock, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Insurance, said the marketplace premiums being offered this year are based on individual insurers’ projections about how many young people they would need to stabilize their their insurance risk pools.

“No matter what, if the ultimate enrollment numbers don’t line up with projections that is going to impact premiums as we go into next year,” Brock said.

Enrollment still trending low

Greg Lawson, an analyst at the The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, noted that total enrollment is still below government forecasts of about 3 million people by the end of last year, although he acknowledged sign-ups in the marketplaces are gaining momentum.

Still, it’s too early to tell whether the marketplaces will attract enough of the uninsured population to meet the government’s full forecast of 7 million marketplace enrollees by the the March 31 final deadline.

Enrollment “is better than what we were looking at in November,” Lawson said. “But I don’t think anybody can be too sanguine about where we are when we’re still well below the target numbers, and we don’t know how many young people will ultimately sign up.

“We also still have some serious issues that have to be worked through that could ultimately affect the outcome,” he said.

Technical problems with the HealthCare.gov website — the government website for marketplace enrollment in Ohio and 35 other states — severely hamstrung sign-ups in the early going.

Most of the technical problems were fixed last month, according to officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the division of HHS responsible for the website. But CMS is still working on fixing errors on enrollment forms that have prevented some insurers from activating health plans.

On Friday, the CMS dropped the lead website contractor, CGI Federal, and plans to replace it with another contractor, Accenture, which has worked with other states to create their exchange marketplaces, including California’s.

“At this point, we don’t know who actually has coverage,” Lawson said. “Just because you’ve selected a plan doesn’t mean you have coverage if you went through the federal website.”

‘It’s a big relief’

Advocates say the demand for health coverage is evident, and the benefits of the health care law — including tax credit subsidies to help pay for premiums — far outweigh any problems with sign-ups.

“Today’s announcement by HHS shows that Ohioans are taking advantage of the opportunity to sign up for affordable, quality health coverage,” said Trey Daly, Ohio director for Enroll America — a nonprofit leading efforts to help Americans get enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. “There are many more uninsured people in Ohio who don’t yet know about their new options, or that financial help is available to them for the first time. When people understand that financial help is available, they’re eager to enroll.”

Kristin Holtz of Kettering jumped at the chance to sign up for health coverage when she discovered her premiums would be hundreds of dollars less than what she had been quoted before the advent of the health care law.

“I’m self-employed, and I’ve been without insurance for the past three years because the premiums were so high,” Holtz said. “I was looking at premiums of $500 to $600 before Obamacare. When you’re looking at paying rent, putting gas in the car and business expenses, it’s hard to justify that kind of expenditure.”

Like most enrollees, Holtz, 46, selected a sliver plan that covers at least 70 percent of her medical expenses with an unsubsidized premium of $480 a month. With the subsidy, she pays $164 a month, and has already made an appointment to have a mammogram — a vital test for the early detection of breast cancer.

“It’s a big relief to be able to have the test after so many years of putting it off,” Holtz said. “And since it’s preventative care, it’s 100 percent covered by my insurance.”

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