Arizona sees rise in health marketplace enrollees

Associated Press Updated: December 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm • Published: December 11, 2013 0

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizonans are beginning to warm to the new federal health insurance marketplace, but actual enrollment numbers for new private policies that will take effect Jan. 1 are still extremely low.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures made public Wednesday show just 3,600 Arizonans had chosen plans through the marketplace from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 — less than 9 percent of those who completed applications through the federal insurance marketplace.

About 20 percent of those applications, or 16,680 individuals, qualify for free healthcare under the state's expanding Medicaid program for the poor, or for a federal health program for children. Another 16,607 will be able to buy private insurance with the help of federal tax subsidies.

The state's Medicaid plan also released numbers Wednesday for childless adults who have been qualified to receive coverage under a plan pushed through the Legislature earlier this year by Gov. Jan Brewer. The state said 13,224 adults earning less than the federal poverty limit had been enrolled for coverage starting Jan. 12.

Those people can't enroll through the federal marketplace now because of continuing problems with data transfers to states. Instead, they'll need to go to the state's website, www.healthearizonaplus.gov , to sign up.

The enrollment numbers show a huge spike from the program's first month, when just 739 Arizonans chose plans through the online marketplace.

Nationally, the new markets have picked up their pace of signups since encountering paltry enrollment, in part because of website problems. Still, the number of enrollees nationwide is less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials originally projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November.

About 20 percent of Arizonans don't have insurance, but at least 300,000 are expected to be newly eligible for coverage through the state's Medicaid program starting Jan. 1. That leaves about 700,000 people without insurance, many of them eligible to buy it through the exchange.

They have until Dec. 23 to choose a plan that goes into effect Jan. 1, and must enroll by March 31 if they want insurance in 2014.

Although the enrollment numbers are still well below expectations, a health care expert at the University of Arizona said that's to be expected.

"We're in the early stages," said Dr. Daniel Derksen, a public health policy and management professor who helped design New Mexico's health insurance exchanges. "When Massachusetts did this as a state, they noticed a very low velocity initially. And then shortly before eligibility started that bumped up, and certainly that increased when people realized they would have to pay a penalty."

This month will be particularly important, Derksen said, and he expects a big jump in enrollments that will continue through March.

"I think people are being cautious," Derksen said. "They've looked it over. They're going to go back and look again, and then we'll start seeing these numbers really jump in Arizona in the coming months."

The number that really stuck out to Derksen from the federal figures released Wednesday was the number of individual visitors to the federal healthcare.gov website or websites runs by some states. That showed a tremendous demand for health insurance, he said.

"What struck me ... was the visitors, 39 million. Oh my goodness, there's (only) 48 million uninsured," Derksen said.

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