Exchange enrollment nears 500,000 in Georgia

Nearly a half-million Georgians have enrolled in a 2016 health plan through the insurance exchange or had their coverage automatically renewed, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Georgia’s total of 498,901 as of Dec. 19 would appear to put the state on a faster pace than 2015 enrollment. By the end of that enrollment period in mid-February, roughly 540,000 Georgians had signed up or been renewed.

Open enrollment ends Jan. 31.

The Affordable Care Act provides for exchanges in all 50 states, and this is their third year of operation.

Federal health officials said that nationally since open enrollment began Nov. 1, more than 8.2 million consumers signed up for coverage through the platform or had their coverage automatically renewed – with millions more selecting plans through state-based marketplaces. A year ago, about 6.4 million had signed up or been automatically renewed by Dec. 19, 2014.

Citing ‘’unprecedented demand’’ last week, federal officials extended the signup deadline from Dec. 15 to Dec. 17 for people who want coverage to take effect Jan. 1.

“Millions of Americans will start 2016 with the quality and affordable health coverage they want and need to keep their families healthy and financially secure,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement Tuesday. “We are focused on making sure families looking for coverage understand their options through the marketplace, know about the financial assistance available, and have access to the support they need to enroll.”

Sylvia Burwell
Sylvia Burwell

In total enrollment, Georgia trailed only Florida, Texas and North Carolina among the 38 states that use federally run exchanges.

Danté McKay, Georgia director of Get Covered America, said the HHS announcement “shows what we’ve been seeing on the ground across the state: Consumers want quality, affordable health coverage, and when they learn they have new options under the Affordable Care Act, they are eager to enroll.’’

Cindy Zeldin of consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future added that while there is still work to do to sign up as many Georgians as possible, “these robust enrollment figures demonstrate that we are on a good path toward that outcome.”

The penalty for not having coverage will rise significantly in 2016 compared to this year.

Unless exempted, people who remain uninsured next year will be subject to a penalty of $695 for an individual, or 2.5 percent of household income — whichever is greater. That’s up from the 2015 penalty: $325 or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater.