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Big increase of enrollees in Obama’s health care plan

Illinois launched TV ads urging residents 'get covered' through new options for health  insurance courtesy President Barack Obama's health

Illinois launched TV ads urging residents to "get covered" through new options for health insurance, courtesy of President Barack Obama's health care law.

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Updated: February 15, 2014 6:20AM

In a significant jump, 61,111 Illinois residents had chosen an insurance plan through President Barack Obama’s health care law by the end of December, according to the latest enrollment numbers released by the federal government Monday.

That marks nearly a ninefold increase in December over the first two months, when 7,043 Illinois residents had selected a new plan created by the Affordable Care Act between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30.

Nationwide, nearly 2.2 million Americans selected a health plan, increasing from nearly 1.8 million.

“We’re seeing a very strong response through the marketplace,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a Monday conference call with reporters. “The numbers show that there is a very strong national demand for affordable health care.”

The improvements in the enrollment numbers was likely driven by the combination of a better working federal website — where uninsured Illinoisans and other states were supposed to search for new options for health insurance — and the approaching deadline to buy insurance in time for it to be active Jan. 1. The glitches in federal quickly became apparent after the site launched on Oct. 1 and have mostly been resolved as of end of November.

“While we are encouraged by the . . . increase in Marketplace enrollments in December, there’s still much more work to do to reach Illinois’ uninsured population,” Jennifer Koehler, executive director of Get Covered Illinois said, adding that Illinois had a solid plan of reaching those who are eligible.

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 are in the program.

For the first time, the federal government also broke down enrollees by age, gender and type of plan they selected. Of the 2.2 million, 24 percent between ages 18 and 34 have bought a plan so far, which works out to 528,000 people nationally.

In Illinois, 23 percent of enrollees fell in that age range, while the highest percentage — those age 55 to 64 — was 37 percent.

The White House has said that it wants 7 million people to enroll in the online marketplaces by the end of March. Of those, about 2.7 million of the new enrollees in the marketplaces must be cheap-to-insure young and healthy people; otherwise, there will be too many older, sicker people and costs and premiums will rise.

Many health experts noted that the number of young people will likely pick up as it gets closer to March 31, when the six-month open enrollment period for 2014 ends.

“It is important that you do look at the whole enrollment over six month period to understand what those numbers do mean and what impact they will have on the marketplace,” Clare Krusing, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents the health insurance industry.

Monday’s report also showed that 60 percent of the Americans who selected a plan chose a silver one, while 20 percent chose a bronze plan. Thirteen percent selected a gold plan, 7 percent selected platinum and only 1 percent selected a catastrophic.

More Illinoisans selected a gold plan — 23 percent — than the national average, but otherwise it mirrored what was seen nationally.

Health insurance plans offered through the online marketplace at are categorized as bronze (lowest cost), silver, gold or platinum (highest cost). Bronze plans would have lower premiums but higher out-of-pockets.

The catastrophic plan is supposed to meet all the requirements applicable to other plans but does not cover any benefits other than three primary care visits per year before the plan’s deductible is met. A person must be under 30 years old or get a “hardship exemption” from the marketplace to qualify for a catastrophic plan.

Officials said about 9 million Americans have health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act — either through the private plans, Medicaid or young people being able to stay on their parents’ plans longer.

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1

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