As the deadline looms for health care marketplace enrollment, more than 176,000 Ohioans have signed up for private health plans or been deemed eligible for Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Total enrollment in private plans total 78,925 through the end of February, while 97,477 Ohioans were deemed eligible for Medicaid. That was up about 27 percent from the previous totals for private plans and Medicaid through the end of January.
Enrollment in private health plans alone climbed at an even faster rate — up 31 percent from just over 60,000 enrollees through the end of January.
Nationwide, 4.2 million Americans had signed up for private health plans, and 4.4 million were determined eligible for Medicaid through the end of February.
Private enrollment through February was up about 29 percent from the previous four months. The total was still about 1.8 million shy of the Congressional Budget Office’s revised forecast of 6 million enrollees by the March 31 — final deadline for enrollment.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a conference call with reporters that she expected a surge of new enrollees over the next several weeks to close the gap.
“Given what we know about past enrollment patterns for health care, we expect that even more will sign up as we approach the March 31 deadline,” according to Sebelius, who said she was especially encouraged by the increased participation by young adults who will be critical to making the economics of the health care marketplaces work.
So far, young adults have accounted for about 25 percent of total enrollment in private marketplace plans nationwide, less than the 40 percent enrollment by young adults that the Kaiser Family Foundation and others have estimated will be needed for the marketplaces to work properly.
But Sebelius noted that enrollment by young adults picked up in January and continued to accelerate last month when more than a third of enrollees were under age 35.
“Young adults tend to sign up later in the process…and there’s still time for others to sign up,” she said.
Meanwhile, local volunteers and others working to enroll the uninsured have stepped up their efforts, including Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who kicked off a citywide health-care enrollment initiative Tuesday at East End Community Services.
“We need to make sure our citizens get what’s coming to them,” said Whaley, who was joined at the podium by Kathleen Falk, regional director for HHS, who implored community leaders and residents to reach out to the uninsured.
“There are 20 days left to get enrolled,” Falk said. “Let’s not let one of those next 20 days go without reaching out to someone.”
Overall, there are about 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans, or about 15 percent of the state’s population.
In Montgomery County alone, about 19 percent of the non-elderly adult population is currently uninsured, and about 42,000 residents are eligible to sign up for private health plans through the marketplace or receive Medicaid coverage, according to Jeff Cooper, assistant to the health commissioner for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County.
“We fully recognize the importance of access to health care,” Cooper said. “And we would encourage our uninsured residents to get coverage through the health insurance marketplace.”
Sebelius credited the Affordable Care Act with already reducing the number of uninsured, citing a Gallup survey released Monday that showed the percentage of non-elderly Americans without health insurance fell to 15.9 by the end of February — the lowest rate since 2008 and down from 17 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013.
“This wasn’t a coincidence or something that just happened on it’s own,” said Sebelius, referring to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. “What we’re finding is that as more Americans learn just how affordable marketplace insurance can be, more are signing up to get covered.”
New enrollees include Dayton resident Mary Woeste, 59, who completed the marketplace application process Monday at East End. Woeste is now waiting for a determination on her eligibility for Medicaid or private insurance.
Either way, Woeste said she’s just happy to have the opportunity to get affordable health coverage for the first time in many years.
“It just makes you feel better about doing things and being active in the community without having to worry about an accident or injury that might set you back financially,” Woeste said. “I’m trying to get a job with a non-profit, and most of them don’t offer a lot of benefits like health insurance. This way, I don’t have to worry about that. I can choose the job I want regardless of the benefits package.”
By Randy Tucker - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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