200,000 North Carolinians enrolled for individual insurance through March 1

About 200,000 North Carolinians signed up for individual health insurance through February, a sign that most residents eligible for subsidized health coverage will take a pass in the federal government program’s maiden year.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services said Tuesday that more than 4.2 million Americans applied for health insurance through as of March 1 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

North Carolina’s enrollment is the fifth-highest in the nation, behind California, New York, Florida and Texas. But it’s increasingly apparent that in North Carolina, where more than 1 million are eligible for individual health coverage, the majority will opt out.

The federal data also shows that 91 percent of North Carolina enrollees will receive government subsidies to help them pay for health insurance. That’s one of the highest subsidization rates in the nation, trailing Wyoming’s 92 percent and Mississippi’s 93 percent and tied with Idaho and Arkansas.

The nationwide enrollment tally is short of the Obama Administration’s original 7 million target. Health officials said they expect increased enrollment activity in the weeks before the final deadline, which is March 31.

Enrollment officially kicked off Oct. 1 but didn’t get underway until December, when federal officials fixed technology problems that disabled the enrollment website,

Those who do not buy health coverage will be subject to a fine – $95 or 1 percent of household earnings, whichever is greater – in the program’s first year. The fine is to be collected from tax refunds from those who qualify for refunds.

The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to buy health insurance, but because the majority already have insurance it immediately affects the uninsured. Most are insured through their employer or through a government program like Medicaid or Medicare.

The law makes it illegal for insurers to turn away applicants with pre-existing conditions or to charge older customers more than three times the rates charged to younger customers.

About 942,000 signed up nationwide in the month of February, including about 40,000 applicants in North Carolina.

About 25 percent of North Carolina enrollments so far are in the 18-34 age bracket, same as the national average. Young customers are seen as the key to the health law’s success because they offset older customers who tend to have more health problems and higher medical bills.

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