Roughly 480,000 North Carolinians either signed up for new health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act or were automatically re-enrolled during the first two-and-a-half months of the latest enrollment period.
Sylvia Burwell, who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, discussed the latest enrollment numbers Friday afternoon at a news conference at the Alliance Medical Ministry in Raleigh.
The event was essentially a pep rally aimed at getting others to sign up before the Feb. 15 deadline for the current enrollment period.
“Once Feb. 15 comes, open enrollment is over and folks will have to wait until next year to enter the system,” Burwell said. “We want to make sure people know there is an opportunity to get affordable, quality care and we encourage people to do that.”
The 479,748 North Carolinians who either signed up or re-enrolled through the federally run HealthCare.gov website from Nov. 15 through Jan. 30 includes 60,182 people in the Triangle.
A breakdown of how many of the nearly 480,000 North Carolina consumers were new to the program versus those who were automatically re-enrolled wasn’t available.
Last year 357,584 North Carolina consumers selected plans, but it’s unclear how many of those people had insurance at the end of 2014. Some who selected a plan never followed up by paying their premium, and others may have lost subsidized coverage for a number of reasons, such as getting a job that provides health insurance.
“It’s really hard to say what is going on,” said Chris Conover, a research scholar at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research at Duke University and a critic of the Affordable Care Act. “But in terms of gross enrollments, they are ahead of where they were last year. That’s good news.”
Adam Linker, a health policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center, an advocacy group for poor and working-class people, pointed out that just two states that rely on the federal marketplace – Florida and Texas – have signed up more consumers than North Carolina.
“Any way you look at it, we are doing really well with enrollments,” Linker said.
Nationwide, nearly 7.5 million consumers selected a health plan or were automatically re-enrolled from Nov. 15 through Jan. 30 through the federal marketplace. Add those who have signed up through state-run marketplaces, Burwell said, and more than 9.9 million people nationwide have signed up so far.
But Conover noted that the Congressional Budget Office has been projecting that 13 million Americans will enroll in 2015.
“The chances they are going to get to 13 million by mid-February are vanishingly small,” he said.
Of those North Carolinians who have enrolled for 2015 plans so far, 92 percent were deemed eligible for financial assistance that lowers their monthly premiums. Last year, 91 percent were eligible.
Nationwide, 87 percent of those signed up for 2015 coverage qualify for financial assistance. Mississippi ranks first with 94 percent of consumers qualifying for assistance.
Low- to moderate-income people can qualify for reduced premiums. In the lower-income range, people may also qualify for aid that reduces their out-of-pocket costs.
Under the Affordable Care Act, those who don’t have health insurance can face financial penalties.
Two consumers who have obtained subsidized health insurance also spoke at the news conference, including Carolyn Walker, 62, who lives in Wendell and has her own one-person cleaning business.
Access to care
Walker, a cancer survivor, went without health insurance for 26 years until the Affordable Care Act became law.
“For the first time in my life, I have access to quality health insurance and it’s affordable and no one can discriminate against me for my previous cancer,” said Walker, who pays $71 per month. “I was so relieved that I could go to the doctor when I need it.”
The Affordable Care Act called for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover low-income adults. But North Carolina was among 22 states that declined to do so because of worries about the costs and issues with the program.
Last year, just two health insurers offered subsidized policies. But this year that has expanded to three: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas and United Healthcare. Blue Cross is the only insurer that offers plans in all of the state’s 100 counties.