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Among federal ‘Obamacare’ partners, Illinois spends least on signing up new patients

Earlier this year navigators help potential enrollees Harold WashingtCollege. | MonifThomas/Sun-Times

Earlier this year, navigators help potential enrollees at Harold Washington College. | Monifa Thomas/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 30, 2014 8:34PM



Among the five states partnering with the federal government to get people signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, Illinois spent the least amount per person, a new report says.

Funding for these states ranged from $25.76 per eligible uninsured person in Illinois to $67.39 in Delaware, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded study.

The federal and state funds went to paying for so-called navigators, in-person counselors or certified application counselors — all hired to help people who have needed help enrolling in different health insurance options made available for the first time by ‘Obamacare.’

In addition to Illinois and Delaware, Arkansas, New Hampshire and West Virginia partnered with the federal government.

When looking at all states, though, Illinois spent more than state-based marketplaces such as California and New York.

The Affordable Care Act called for creation of an online marketplace in each state, where their residents could search for new options for health insurance.

States could choose to either partner with the federal government to make that happen, create their own state-run marketplace or allow the federal government to do all the work.

Most states chose a federally-facilitated marketplace.

The five partnership states were the only ones with access to maximum funding, the study noted. As a result, they had, on average, the highest per-uninsured funding levels.

The data comes from various sources of state-level funding of consumer assistance programs and rates of uninsured, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Kaiser Family Foundation, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics said.

But they noted that it does not take into account funds spent on broad marketing campaigns or call centers, nor does it account for insurer initiatives and others who weren’t paid by the state or the federal government but helped with the enrollment, like Enroll America.

Making an apples to apples comparison between states is also difficult to do because there are a number of different factors that can possibly account for the different amounts each state paid to enroll people for health insurance, said Janet Weiner, associate director for health policy at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

States with many uninsured people might, for instance, spend less per uninsured person.

A spokesman for the state had no immediate comment.

But the state has noted in the past that Illinois was on target to meet the goal set by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in September 2013. That goal was pegged at 143,000 people buying private plans by March 31.

The latest enrollment data for Illinois has not yet been released. But as of March 1, 113,733 people from Illinois have selected a private health insurance plan that was provided on the marketplace.

Compared to similar or smaller states, the latest report shows Illinois lagged behind other states’ enrollment numbers. For instance, Pennsylvania, a similar sized stated to Illinois, has had nearly 160,000 people sign up. Michigan, North Carolina and Georgia — smaller states — also showed higher enrollment than Illinois.

Georgia, whose marketplace was run by the federal government, spent $4.24 per uninsured person in that state, the least amount of any other state.

“The big unanswered question is how this relates to the success of enrollment. We’re not sure yet,” Weiner said.

When those numbers come in, “I think what we [can] take away is the initial investment and the return on that investment. And I think we need to look deeper at who was successful, at what cost and what worked.

mjthomas@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1



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