Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Enrollment grows as Obamacare sign-up deadline approaches

By Jamey Dunn

According to enrollment numbers released by the federal government today, more than 313,000 Illinoisans have obtained health care coverage under “Obamacare.”

As of the end of February, 113,733 got insurance coverage through either Illinois’ insurance marketplace or the federal website. That number is up by 25,131 from January’s total. In addition to those who have chosen insurance plans, about 200,000 people have received coverage under the Medicaid expansion, which is a key component of the Affordable Care Act. “February was a busy and productive month, and we are working hard to build on it in the next three weeks. We want everyone who is not yet covered to know that the six-month enrollment window will be closing as of March 31,” Jennifer Koehler, executive director of Get Covered Illinois, said in a prepared statement. “To everyone who has been waiting on the sidelines, we are saying: ‘Don’t delay: Enroll today.’ Go to our website, GetCoveredIllinois.gov and find out what your options are. We are working closely with hundreds of community partners across Illinois to ensure that everyone who needs assistance can get it, and that no one misses out on the opportunity to enroll in a quality, affordable health plan this month.” Those seeking insurance coverage that begins on April 1 must unroll by this Saturday. Anyone who does not have coverage by the March 31 deadline would be subject to a penalty fee when they file their tax returns for 2014. However, there are exemptions for those who opt out of coverage for religious reasons or those who can show that they are not eligible for Medicaid and cannot afford coverage. The next open enrollment period is scheduled for November with coverage beginning in January 2015.

Of the Illinoisans that have purchased insurance, 77 percent are eligible for federal subsidies to help cover the cost. More than half of those getting coverage are women and 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. This group, dubbed the young invincibles, are important to the program because their relatively low need for health care would offset the costs of insurer the older and those with pre-existing conditions. The rate of young enrollees in Illinois tracks with the federal numbers, but is lower than the number of them that are eligible for coverage. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health policy, estimates that about 40 percent of those eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange nationwide fall into the young invincibles category. Health care officials on the state and federal level are courting young people to sign up before the March 31 open enrollment deadline. Illinois partnered with the satirical news website The Onion to advertise coverage. President Barack Obama made on online splash today by pitching Obamacare on Between Two Ferns—a talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis that airs on a website called Funny or Die.

For more on the state's online insurance exchange, see the current Illinois Issues. 

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