State’s exchange enrollees now exceed 100,000

The number of Georgians signed up for health coverage in the insurance exchange has topped 100,000, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

The Georgia enrollment of 101,276 through January lags behind that of two other states using the federal exchange that have similar-sized populations – North Carolina’s 160,161 and Michigan’s 112,013.


Still, the new figure represents a 73 percent jump from Georgia’s October-through- December total of 58,611 signing up. And it surpasses that of two states with slightly larger populations, Ohio and Illinois.

The age of the enrollees was again a prime focus in the federal report. Twenty-seven percent of Georgians signing up are ages 18 to 34, slightly higher than the 26 percent through December, said report from the Department of Health and Human Services.

For the exchange to work and be economically viable for insurers,  it must have enough young and healthy enrollees to balance the risk from older and sicker enrollees, experts say. That’s why people 18 to 34 are such an important demographic for the program. Though age is not a precise indicator of health, younger adults tend to be healthier than older ones.

HHS officials noted that 27 percent of those who selected plans in the federal exchange in January are ages 18 to 34, a 3 percentage point increase over the figure reported for the previous three-month period.

Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said the young adult enrollment number is heading in the right direction. About 30 percent of Georgians in the recent individual insurance market are 18 to 34, he said.

The 27 percent figure “is kind of the number you’d expect’’ at this point of the enrollment process, Custer added.

Georgia health officials who support the Affordable Care Act said the new sign-up figures are encouraging.

“It’s a positive sign that the marketplace is getting past some of the early glitches’’ involved with the website, said Tim Sweeney, health policy director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. The exchange website did not work properly for most people when it debuted Oct. 1, and autumn enrollment was very low, but the feds have made massive repairs to the site since then.

And Cindy Zeldin, executive director of the consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future, added that the enrollment increase reflects “a real grass-roots effort’’ by insurance navigators, community groups, local media and some public officials.

Nationally, nearly 3.3 million people enrolled in the health insurance marketplace plans by Feb. 1, with January alone accounting for 1.1 million plan selections in state and federal marketplaces, HHS said.

“These encouraging trends show that more Americans are enrolling every day, and finding quality, affordable coverage,’’ said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius

March 31 marks the end of open enrollment in the exchanges before most consumers are subject to paying a penalty for not having health insurance.

The enrollment numbers include people who have paid a premium and those who have not yet paid a premium.

The federal report comes as the political debate over the Affordable Care Act continues to sizzle nationally as well as in Georgia. Just this week, Republican leaders in the Georgia House introduced a bill to require legislative approval for any expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has rejected Democrats’ calls for Medicaid expansion, citing the costs to the state. The GOP also controls the Georgia General Assembly, and legislative leaders are in solidarity with Deal on the issue.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), the Senate minority leader, said Wednesday that many of “the new enrollees in Obamacare exchange plans are actually folks who were already insured” or eligible for Medicaid, the New York Times reported.

Of the Georgia enrollees, 58 percent are women, a slightly higher percentage than the national average. And 63 percent have chosen Silver plans, up from 57 percent in Georgia through December.

The Silver plan resembles a typical insurance plan, Custer said, noting that if a subsidy is large enough, the cost of this coverage would not be much different from that of a Bronze plan. A total of 25 percent chose the higher-cost Gold and Platinum plans, which are more like employer-provided coverage, he said.

Eighty-three percent of the Georgians signing up for coverage also qualified for financial assistance, or subsidies, to help them afford coverage.

More than 50,000 Georgians have been found eligible for Medicaid and PeachCare in Georgia, up from 30,983 in the previous HHS report.

Custer said he is interested in what the enrollment figures are in areas of the state that have the highest exchange premiums, such as southwest Georgia. The premiums in North Carolina, he said, “are less variable.’’