Almost 400,000 Georgians are signed up for coverage in the 2015 health insurance exchange, federal officials announced Wednesday.
The Georgia signup total as of Jan. 9 greatly exceeds the state’s 316,543 enrollees during the first open enrollment last year. The enrollment period this year ends Feb. 15.
Among the 37 states using federally run exchanges, Georgia trailed only Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Since open enrollment began Nov. 15, nearly 6.8 million consumers in those 37 states selected a plan or were automatically re-enrolled in the federally facilitated marketplace, HHS announced.
The new numbers include people who were automatically re-enrolled from last year’s insurance exchange coverage. Last month, HHS said 187,654 Georgians had picked plans for 2015 as of Dec. 15, but that number did not include automatic signups.
Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said Wednesday that the 398,000 enrollment figure “is a little higher than I would have predicted.”
The final Georgia number could approach 500,000, he said, noting the 2014 enrollment spiked during the last three weeks of enrollment. A figure of 500,000 would be roughly 5 percent of all Georgians.
It’s unknown where the new signups are coming from – whether they’re previously uninsured, or are coming from employer-sponsored plans, Custer said.
Nevertheless, he said, Georgia’s percentage of uninsured residents should drop as a result of the exchange growth. But the state will continue to have a high rate of uninsured, he said, due to Georgia’s decision not to expand its Medicaid program.
Almost 90 percent of Georgians picking a health plan in the first month were eligible for a subsidy that would lower their monthly premiums.
Consumer advocates said Wednesday that they were excited about the surge in exchange enrollment.
“We’re ecstatic,’’ said Dante McKay, state director of Enroll America. The enrollment figure “is a very strong indicator of appetite and interest in coverage.”
McKay said that as the final month approaches, his organization “has 130 events planned all over the state to generate awareness.”
Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future said, “In addition to the improved access to care and financial security these newly insured Georgia consumers will experience, having more people enrolled in health insurance also benefits our state’s health care infrastructure and the overall health of our communities.”
The increased tax penalty may motivate some some people to sign up at the last minute, experts say. The federal penalty for having no health insurance this year is $325 per uninsured person or 2 percent of yearly household income – whichever is greater.
That’s up from $95 per uninsured person or 1 percent of household income.
For people who are considering enrollment:
** One place to go for help is healthcare.gov, which has a list of navigators or insurance counselors who can offer free help, as well as health clinics that can assist you. This help is free.
** Seedco is supplying navigators (specially trained counselors) for Georgia, and consumers and small business owners can call 1-855-899-6092 for assistance. Community Health Works is also providing navigators. Consumers can locate a navigator online by visiting https://localhelp.healthcare. gov/
** You can call the federal consumer assistance center at 800-318-2596.
** You can consult a local insurance broker or agent. Go to http://www.nahu.org/consumer/ findagent2.cfm and enter a ZIP code to find agents in your area — agents certified to work with the exchange are marked with this below their name: Exchange Broker Certifications: GA