Late Surge Sees 154K Ohioans Enroll for Health Coverage

Under ACA requirements, every American must have insurance by the end of open enrollment period, which was March 31, although the Obama administration has given enrollees flexibility.

by Thomas Gnau, McClatchy News Service / May 2, 2014
Obamacare board at the opening of Ohio's North Hamilton County field office. Flickr/Barack Obama

The number of Ohioans who signed up from private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act nearly doubled as the federal enrollment deadline approached and passed, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The numbers cover Oct. 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014, with additional activity through April 19.

According to the report, 154,668 Ohioans have selected an insurance plan through a federally facilitated marketplace, out of 285,967 people deemed eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan. The former number represents the people who have signed up for a private health plan — up from 78,925 residents who signed up for private plans by the end of February — an increase of 75,743 people or nearly 96 percent rise.

Under ACA requirements, every American must have insurance by the end of open enrollment period, which was March 31, although the Obama administration has given enrollees flexibility. Failure to have a plan could mean a fine of $95 a year or 1 percent of one’s annual income.

In Ohio, 185,780 people are eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan with financial assistance, while 159,6899 Ohioans are determined to be eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people.

In Ohio, total Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program enrollment was 2,549,762 through March — an increase of more than 208,000 people, according to the federal government.

Nationally, some 8 million people have selected a plan through a state or federal marketplace. Twenty-eight percent of people who selected a marketplace plan during the initial open enrollment period — about 2.2 million people — were between the ages of 18 and 34.

For the first time, the administration provided information about the racial and ethnic background of people signing up. Of the 3.8 million people in the federal exchange who voluntarily disclosed such information, officials said, 63 percent were white, 17 percent were black, 11 percent were Latino and 8 percent were Asian. In Ohio, 81 percent people were white and 11.5 percent were black.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the latest numbers exceeded the administration’s original goal to sign up 7 million people. It shows also that the technology problems that crippled the federal exchange when in launched in October have improved.

“In addition,” she said, “over 4.8 million more people have been covered by states through Medicaid… Around 3 million more Americans under 26 are covered under their parents’ plans, and recent estimates show that an additional 5 million people have purchased coverage outside of the marketplace in Affordable Care Act-compliant plans.

“Together, we are ensuring that health coverage is more accessible than ever before, which is important for families, for businesses and for the nation’s health and well-being.”

A local company is seeing more people sing-up for coverage under the law.

CareSource, a nonprofit Medicaid managed care provider based in Dayton, saw 35,000 Ohioans sign up for CareSource “Just4Me” coverage on the federal marketplace. Nearly 60 percent of its “Just4Me” consumers enrolled after March 1, said Scott Streator, CareSource vice president-exchange.

“As a mission-based nonprofit, our objective in entering the Health Insurance Marketplace, was to provide insurance coverage to uninsured Ohioans,” Streator said in an e-mail.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the enrollment numbers demonstrate there is a need. “Already, the health law has helped millions of Ohioans receive better care at an affordable price,” he said. “I hope Americans will continue to take advantage of this opportunity to protect themselves and their families. No family should be one illness or injury away from financial ruin.”

But Mary Taylor, Ohio lieutenant governor and director of the Ohio Department of Insurance, said the new enrollment numbers show the federal health law is “flawed.” Taylor and Gov. John Kasich’s administration have been critics of the ACA, although Kasich pushed Ohio to participate in expanded Medicaid coverage.

“Only about 10 percent of uninsured Ohioans even attempted to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare, which shows just how flawed this program continues to be — it’s too complex, too expensive for people and too limited in its options,” Taylor said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate because people who need help aren’t getting it, and they could be if the free market were allowed to bring them the coverage they needed at a better price.”

Lucy Grosz, co-founder of Alta Vista Benefits in Columbus and president of the Ohio Association of Health Underwriters, had questions about the federal numbers and whether they represent what insurance companies are seeing.

“The question I’ve had all along, is OK, you get somebody signed up, but did you pay the premium?” Grosz said.

She wonders if federal numbers align with the experience of health insurers covering customers who have started to pay premiums.

“The other thing you have to look at is how many people have had insurance before (the ACA) and whether they’re just replacing what they had before.” Grosz added.

An “enrollment” to her means that someone has signed up for a plan and paid the premium, Grosz said.

©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)