State insurance officials said Wednesday that 177,668 Georgians have completed applications for coverage in the health exchange as of March 15. That number, reported...

State insurance officials said Wednesday that 177,668 Georgians have completed applications for coverage in the health exchange as of March 15.

clipboardThat number, reported by health insurers in the state, reflects a recent surge in enrollees from the latest figures released by the federal government. As of the end of February, federal officials said, Georgia’s exchange enrollment totaled 139,371.

The Office of state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens also said Wednesday that of the Georgia enrollees, 144,665 had paid premiums for their new coverage

The federal government’s February total did not state how many enrollees had paid premiums.

The new Georgia figures were released as the Obama administration gave extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline.

“Hundreds of Georgians are enrolling in coverage each day,” said Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “We expect to see an additional surge in these final days of open enrollment, and we look forward to learning the final enrollment figures next month.”

Zeldin said she was encouraged by the eased application policy announced by federal officials.

Federal officials confirmed Tuesday evening that all consumers who have begun to apply for coverage on, but who do not finish by Monday, will have until about mid-April to ask for an extension, the Washington Post reported.

The federal website is being used in 36 states, including Georgia, while the rest of the states are running their own exchange websites.

Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system, meaning the government will not try to independently verify whether the person has made the effort as claimed.

The extra time will not technically alter the deadline but will create a broad new category of people eligible for what’s known as a special enrollment period, the Post reported.

The change, which the administration is scheduled to announce Wednesday, is supported by consumer advocates who want as many people as possible to gain insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But it’s likely to be slammed by Republicans who oppose the law and have denounced the way the administration is implementing it. The administration has postponed several deadlines established by the wide-ranging law, drawing criticism from the ACA’s opponents and some of its supporters.

Administration officials said the latest accommodation is an attempt to prepare for a possible surge of people trying to sign up in the final days before the deadline, the Post said. Such a deluge of customers could leave some people unable to get through the system.

The new rules are similar to steps being taken — or contemplated — by some of the 14 states that are running their own health insurance exchanges.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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