Nearly 3.5 million U.S. residents who chose health plans through government-run insurance marketplaces between Oct. 1 and March 1 together qualified for $10 billion in tax credits, according to a report released yesterday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
In Ohio, about 67,000 people who signed up for coverage during that five-month period qualified for $186 million in tax credits to help pay their health premiums. That's an average credit of $2,770 per person.
The numbers exclude people who have been signing up for coverage this month before open enrollment officially ends on Monday, so the amount of tax credits is likely to increase significantly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said yesterday that 6 million people now have signed up for coverage, up from 4.2 million on March 1.
Only 10 days ago, the Obama administration had pegged enrollment at more than 5 million people and enlisted celebrities and top government officials to try to persuade more uninsured people -- particularly the young and healthy -- to sign up.
The last-minute boost has exceeded the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's estimate that 6 million people would sign up in the program's first year, down from earlier expectations of 7 million enrollees because of problems with websites used for shopping for insurance.
And more will sign up, as the Obama administration said this week that it will grant extensions past Monday's deadline for those who have started the process.
Kaiser's estimate of the amount of U.S. tax subsidies appears to be in line with a Congressional Budget Office estimate that marketplace subsidies would cost the federal government about $15 billion in fiscal year 2014.
But Kaiser also analyzed the sign-ups to shed light on why enrollment has lagged in some states, including Ohio. Twelve percent of Ohioans who are eligible for subsidies had signed up for marketplace coverage as of March 1, compared with 21 percent nationwide.
"We think of Obamacare as a federal law, but how people are experiencing it varies tremendously based on where they live," said Larry Levitt, one of the report's co-authors.
That's the case not only for Medicaid expansion, which for now is happening only in Ohio and 26 other states. "It's also been true on the private insurance side," Levitt said.
He said some of the disparity can be attributed to whether states chose to run their own marketplace and were invested in the health-care law's success early on; California, for example, has had 40 percent of subsidy-eligible individuals sign up.
But in Ohio and dozens of other states relying on the federally run exchange, "it really comes down to the on-the-ground effort by community groups to get people enrolled."
The amount of marketing by insurance carriers in those states also is a factor, Levitt said.
Cathy Levine of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, a consumer-advocacy group, said she thinks the lack of support for the health-care law by elected state officials and the news media has been a factor in the state's low enrollment.
"From our work, we know that the word has not been reaching the people who need to hear it," Levine said. "Ohioans who are eligible for subsidies are not getting the message."
But Levine said many Ohioans are waiting until the last minute to sign up. "It may be too early to judge," she said.
Information from Reuters was included in this story.
By Ben Sutherly - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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