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Pace picks up for number of Illinois residents enrolled in Obamacare

Updated: January 14, 2014 11:40AM



The number of Illinois residents who selected an insurance plan created by President Barack Obama’s health plan has increased to 7,043 people — five times more than the end of October, the federal government said Wednesday.

Nationwide, 364,682 individuals signed up for a plan under the Affordable Care Act between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30. That’s four times greater than the federal government reported last month.

But those numbers are still quite a bit lower, no matter which estimates you review. Illinois had projected that 337,000 from the individual marketplace would get coverage by 2014. The Obama administration’s original enrollment goal for October alone was 500,000 Americans and 7 million people — on both the state and federal exchanges — by the time the initial enrollment period ends in March 2014, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

All three projections were made before the trouble-plagued website, HealthCare.gov, went live on Oct. 1.

Both state and federal government officials said they’re not worried.

“These numbers show the federal website has improved but there is still more work to do,” Get Covered Illinois Executive Director Jennifer Koehler said. “There is still plenty of time left to pick a plan that meets your needs.”

A spokesman for the Quinn administration declined to answer whether these numbers were higher or lower than expected for Illinois.

Michael Hash, the director of the Office of Health Reform with the Department of Health and Human Services, said, “We think we’re on track, and we will reach the total that we thought.”

Consumers have until Dec. 23 to sign up on Healthcare.gov if they want to receive benefits starting Jan. 1, 2014, but the end of the six-month open enrollment period for 2014 remains March 31. That’s also the date after which Americans will be required to have insurance or pay a fine.

Health policy experts have noted that enrollment tends to be is slow at the start of a new government program.

Republicans, though, said they aren’t convinced that the federal government can reach their goal and also questioned the accuracy of the numbers.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) took issue because Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could not say whether those who signed up through the marketplaces had secured their enrollment by paying their first month’s premiums.

“When Amazon.com records a book sold, they record a book sold based on someone who has paid for it, not what is in their shopping cart, not what is on their wishlist,” Shimkus said at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee. “So our concern is this 365,000 figure is fraudulent because it is not those who have purchased plans yet.”

The enrolled numbers include people who may or may not have already paid a premium, the Department of Health and Human Services said. That makes it hard to determine how many people have actually enrolled.

Another 803,077 people were determined to be eligible for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Of those, 30,446 individuals were in Illinois.

The HHS report also showed that of the roughly 2.3 million Americans who completed applications for an insurance plan, only about 41 percent qualified for federal assistance. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that about 90 percent of people would qualify, though an HHS representative said time will tell if that 41 percent increases.

States running their own marketplaces for new insurance still had more people who signed up for insurance than HealthCare.gov did — 227,478 versus 137,204. And the federal government still declined to provide a breakdown of what percentage of enrollees were younger versus older.

HealthCare.gov has had glitches since its launch on Oct. 1 that kept many Americans from actually being able to explore those insurance plan options.

mjthomas@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1



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