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Exceeding predictions, 217,000 Illinoisans sign up for Obamacare insurance

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: May 1, 2014 9:38PM

So far, more than 217,000 people in Illinois have bought private health insurance created under the Affordable Care Act in its first year of open enrollment.

Pushed by last-minute sign-ups, Illinois, like most states, exceeded the expectations set by the federal government.

But the number of Hispanics who bought a plan — both in Illinois and nationally— fell short compared to the number of eligible Hispanics who lacked insurance, the federal government reported Thursday.

And nationally, the percentage of young and theoretically healthy enrollees didn’t budge much.

The 217,492 enrollment numbers for Illinois do not differentiate between people who bought and paid for a health insurance plan versus those who have not made a payment on the insurance plan they selected, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

March 31 was the deadline to buy an insurance plan that would kick in this year. But the federal government gave applicants more time if they weren’t able to finish the process of enrollment begun on that date.

The final enrollment reporting period spans from October 1, 2013 to April 19, 2014, including those people who needed extra time to finish their application, the federal government said Thursday.

Another 287,000 people in Illinois had signed up for Medicaid, the state-run Get Covered Illinois said.

So a total of approximately 504,000 Illinois residents have gained access to health care as a result of the state’s enrollment efforts.

Illinois’ targeted number had been 143,000 people buying a private plan by March 31, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in Sept. 2013. But originally, the state had projected that 337,000 people would get coverage by 2014, based on a consultant’s study in 2011.

State officials, in a statement, said they were pleased with Illinois’ enrollment.

“The six-month enrollment report shows that we are well on our way to achieving our goal of creating a culture of coverage in Illinois,” Get Covered Illinois Executive Director Jennifer Koehler said. “We know there is still more work to be done. But the success of the open enrollment period shows that people all across Illinois recognize the importance of health care coverage and took action to get covered.”

The state declined to make further comment beyond what was in the press release.

As President Obama had announced in April, more than 8 million people had signed up for private plans before the deadline, the federal government said Thursday. The Congressional Budget Office had predicted 6 million after the federal website was launched in October and found to have many glitches.

Younger and healthier people than the U.S. population as a whole and Hispanics had been viewed as crucial to the success of Obama’s coverage expansion. But the final count was disappointing.

Hispanics account for 14.5 percent of those eligible for coverage on the new health insurance markets, but they represented 10.7 percent of the actual enrollees who also volunteered their race or ethnicity, the government reported.

For some mixed-status families, a fear of immigration authorities may have discouraged enrollment. Immigrants who are in the United States illegally cannot participate in the new health insurance system, but many have eligible relatives who are citizens or legal residents.The White House said of those who enrolled, 28 percent were between the ages of 18 34. That falls short of their original target of almost 39 percent. Still, an April 2014 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that insurance plans for 2014 sold on the online marketplace through the Affordable Care Act were slightly cheaper than originally expected. Part of the reason for that is because the benefits offered, including doctor choice and coverage, were narrower than the CBO initially expected, it said.

Even though the administration is claiming huge successes, the Congressional Budget Office projects more than 40 million people will still be uninsured this year, and a more complete picture of who’s still uninsured won’t emerge until next year with the first results from large national surveys.

“Beyond a doubt, the number of uninsured Americans has fallen by millions. Whether it’s 5 million or 15 million still isn’t clear,” said Larry Levitt, an expert on health insurance markets at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation told the Associated Press. “The low enrollment among Latinos is an indication of where challenges still lie: the hard-to-reach groups where more outreach is probably needed.”

The enrollment for 2015 will begin again on November 15.

Contributing: Associated Press

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1

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