About 24,000 in S.C. signed up for new insurance policies on federal marketplace

January 13, 2014 

20030721 CADUCEUS

DENNIS LOWE

About 24,000 South Carolinians signed up for plans on the new Health Insurance Marketplace in the first three months, and they were older, poorer and more likely to be female than the national average of applicants.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released statistics for the marketplace’s first three months – Oct. 1 through Dec. 28 — on Monday.

Federal officials said they were pleased with the overall demographics of the newcomers to the marketplace, though they plan to continue outreach efforts to draw in more young people and more males. More young people, who generally are healthier, help create an insurance pool that can keep prices lower for insurance companies and premiums lower for customers.

The much-publicized problems with the healthcare.gov website have state and national applications lagging behind original projections. Nationally, 2.15 million people have selected plans. Obama administration officials had hoped that nearly 7 million would sign up by the end of March. In South Carolina, the newly insured barely puts a dent in the estimated 750,000 without health insurance last year.

Registration through healthcare.gov continues through March 31.

Here are the South Carolina statistics:

•  While applications were completed for 86,371 people, only 74,162 of those were eligible to enroll in plans and only 35,842 were eligible for federal financial assistance with those plans. People with existing plans through their jobs weren’t eligible for the marketplace. The income range for financial assistance goes from about $11,500 for an individual to $94,200 for a family of four. Those with higher income get less assistance.

•  24,116 people in the state selected insurance plans. That means more than 10,000 people eligible for assistance either plan not to take advantage of that help or decided to wait until after the start of 2014 to select a plan.

•  10,793 who applied were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. Those people were referred to the state Medicaid agency.

•  28 percent of those who selected plans in South Carolina were younger than 35, compared to 30 percent in all other states.

•  81 percent of those who selected plans in South Carolina received financial assistance, compared to 79 percent nationwide.

•  64 percent of those who selected plans in South Carolina went with a silver-level plan, compared to 60 percent nationwide. Because tax subsidies were greater at the silver level, people were more likely to pick those plans than the bronze plans (which had lower cost but covered less) or gold plans (which had higher costs and covered more). In South Carolina, 17 percent went with bronze plans, 19 percent with gold and 1 percent with catastrophic plans available only to those younger than 30.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans will be required to have health insurance beginning this year or face a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher. The law allows for a three-month window of not being covered, so people can avoid the penalty by getting insurance before April 1.

To sign up for policies on the Health Insurance Marketplace, here are the options:

•  Go online to healthcare.gov.

•  Get assistance from the various Navigator groups in the Midlands: The Cooperative Ministry (803) 799-3853, Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (803) 733-1129, the S.C. Progressive Network (803) 445-1921 and the Benefit Bank of S.C. (800) 726-8774.

•  Contact one of the companies offering plans: BlueCross BlueShield of S.C., BlueChoice HealthPlan, Coventry One and Consumers’ Choice Health Plan. You’ll find company employees very helpful in the process, but remember they will steer you toward their company’s policies. There are differences in cost and coverage between the companies’ plans.

•  Contact an independent insurance agent certified to help with Health Insurance Marketplace plans.

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