HEALTH CARE

Insurance marketplace numbers continue slow rise in S.C.

jholleman@thestate.comMarch 11, 2014 

The numbers of insurance policies purchased on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace in South Carolina is up to 36,567 through Feb. 28, according to Ray Farmer, director of the S.C. Department of Insurance.

The more detailed federal report on Affordable Care Act marketplace policies is scheduled to come out in a few days, but South Carolina releases some of that information as soon as it gets reports from the four insurance companies that sell policies on the marketplace in the state.

The 36,567 policies are those for which the companies have received a first premium, and the total was up about 6,500 during the month of February.

The Affordable Care Act mandates a tax penalty for most residents who don’t have health insurance in 2014. But because a three-month gap is allowed without coverage, the true deadline to have coverage and avoid a 2015 tax penalty is March 31.

Based on the latest marketplace numbers, a lot of South Carolinians will be facing that penalty. An estimated 750,000 in the state didn’t have health insurance last year.

Many of those getting the new marketplace policies didn’t have insurance last year. Also, many who apply on the marketplace have been deemed eligible for Medicaid coverage (about 16,000 in South Carolina through Feb. 1). But even with a late surge of applications in March, it appears fewer than 10 percent of the 750,000 in the state without insurance last year will get coverage through Affordable Care Act changes.

In its monthly accounting of the marketplace, the Obama administration stresses a different number representing the insurance shoppers who have made it through the online application and selected a policy, whether they’ve paid for it or not. That higher number in South Carolina was 54,615 in the five months ending Feb. 28.

Farmer’s agency also breaks down the percentage of people who purchase policies using tax subsidies (88.14) and their average age (44.77). Farmer noted that people buying insurance outside the federal exchange in South Carolina average 35.84 years old. Younger people are generally healthier, thus important in evening out the costs for insurance companies.

The other marketplace news last week involved the Obama administration giving insurers the option to continue for two years to allow policies once deemed non-compliant with Affordable Care Act guidelines. Farmer said South Carolina, which went along with the one-year extension of those policies offered a few months ago, will come up with guidelines for those policies to be extended again.

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