More than 56,600 people in Louisiana selected health insurance plans in the first month of enrollment for 2015 coverage under what is commonly called “Obamacare.”
The Department of Health and Human Services said 51 percent of the 56,651 were signing up for the first time, while 49 percent re-enrolled in the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.
Those who enrolled through the marketplace leading up to Dec. 15 will start coverage beginning Jan. 1. Enrollment continues through Feb. 15 for 2015 coverage. Coverage for those who waited won’t start until after the beginning of the year.
Some health care experts have predicted more Louisiana residents will sign up during the second year of Obamacare than this past year. Nearly 102,000 in Louisiana enrolled for health insurance through the federal marketplace for 2014. Another 45,350 enrollees are needed to exceed 2014.
Tuesday’s report with data through Dec. 15 does not fully capture the number of people who selected plans leading up to the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. That’s because an automatic re-enrollment process for the 37 states using HealthCare.gov — including Louisiana — began Dec. 16 and was completed for the vast majority of consumers on Dec. 18, the department said.
“We’ve seen a lot more people sign up,” said Billy Justice, spokesman for Monroe-based Vantage Health Plan. “They’re getting the word out that there are good insurance plans out there for you.”
Last year, Justice said, more than 10,000 people signed up for insurance with Vantage, but about 8,400 people paid their premium. Justice said he expects the numbers of enrollees will increase in 2015. He attributes that to the Healthcare.gov website working much better since its disastrous launch in fall 2013, the penalties for not having insurance are tougher and the number of insurers in Louisiana has increased.
“We’ve seen more competition on the health care exchanges,” he said. “That’s pushing Vantage to work harder on customer service. We have to find ways to make ourselves better.”
John Maginnis, a spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, said it’s too soon to provide a solid count on the number of new sign-ups because of all the “moving pieces.”
“Our agents are helping many people sign up across the state every day, so the number is always fluctuating,” Maginnis said in a statement. “In addition to new enrollees, we are also working with people who bought a plan on the marketplace last year and either need to renew their coverage or want to switch plans.”
About 91 percent of Louisianians who selected health insurance plans in the first month of open enrollment for 2015 were determined eligible for financial assistance to lower their monthly premiums, HHS reported, compared to 82 percent who selected plans over a similar period last year for 2014 coverage.
Louisiana consumers can choose from six insurers for coverage in 2015, up from five insurance companies a year ago. Louisiana consumers also have more plans to choose from, an average of 44 statewide compared to 33 in 2014.
Tuesday’s report provides the first detailed analysis of enrollment in the marketplaces for the first month of the 2015 open enrollment period.
Brian Burton, program director for the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center in Lake Charles, which serves as a navigator to help people sign up for health care coverage, said he expects more people will sign up in the upcoming weeks to beat the application deadline. “We’re putting together press releases right now with a big push on that information and the penalties you can face,” he said.
Nationwide, more than 4 million people signed up for the first time or re-enrolled in coverage for 2015 during the first month of open enrollment. That includes more than 3.4 million people who selected a plan in the 37 states that are using the HealthCare.gov platform for 2015 (including Louisiana), and more than 600,000 consumers who selected plans in the 14 states that are operating their own marketplace for 2015.
“Interest in the marketplace has been strong during the first month of open enrollment. We still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do before Feb. 15, but this is an encouraging start,” HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said.
The figures look good for the administration meeting its goal of 9.1 million customers signed up and paying premiums in 2015, independent experts said. But they predicted the program won’t meet another target: the 13 million enrollments forecast by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in 2015.
“It would take a massive surge in enrollment over the next six weeks” to reach 13 million, said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Other experts believe that for the program to be sustainable it would have to exceed the goal set by the administration.
“I really think they need to get to 13 million this year to have a sustainable program, not this low-ball estimate that nobody takes seriously,” said Washington, D.C.-based health care consultant Robert Laszewski. “We don’t know how many of these people are going to pay. And we don’t know how many of the existing people are going to re-enroll.”
Young adults still aren’t flocking to the program, which could increase costs down the road. About 24 percent of the enrollees are 18 to 34 years old, an age group needed to offset the costs of older, sicker enrollees and keep premiums from rising. That’s about the same proportion of young people signing up in the first three months of last enrollment season. Laszewski and other independent experts say that should be closer to 40 percent to help keep premiums down.