About 155,000 Ohio sign-ups under health overhaul

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Roughly 155,000 Ohio residents picked health plans in the new insurance marketplace created by President Barack Obama’s health care law, falling short of a target set by the administration before the exchanges opened.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the final enrollment numbers Thursday. The figures also showed that Ohio saw a surge of enrollees in the final month of the first open enrollment period under the law.

Sign-ups almost doubled, with 154,668 Ohioans selecting a plan through the federal exchange. As of March 1, the federal government had said 78,925 chose plans.

The final figure was shy of the 190,000 residents the government originally projected would be enrolled by March 31.

The new report did not include information on how many of the newly enrolled have paid their insurance premiums. And it’s unclear how many people previously had insurance.

Nationally, 8 million people signed up for health care through the new insurance exchanges. Ohio was among the states that relied on the federal HealthCare.gov website.

Many Ohio residents who obtained coverage are older, though about a third are under age 35. More than half are women, and 85 percent are getting financial help to pay their monthly premiums. Almost 286,000 residents were found eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan.

The head of one organization helping Ohioans gain health coverage called the figures “pretty good.”

“What these numbers show us is that the Affordable Care Act is working,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

She said she was struck by the percentage of people who got subsidized private health insurance.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who directs the state’s insurance department, said the enrollment numbers tell a different story. She said the figures show the law is “too complex, too expensive for people and too limited in its options.”

Thousands of other Ohioans have obtained coverage through an expansion of Medicaid, the safety net health program for the poor and disabled.

Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration pushed forward with extending Medicaid eligibility last fall under Obama’s law. The main beneficiaries of the change are adults earning up to about $16,100 per year, with no children living at home.

At least 106,238 Ohioans have enrolled in the expanded program as of March 31, according to recent state caseload numbers. Those who qualify for Medicaid program can still enroll.

Groups that helped Ohioans sign up for health insurance say they’re explaining to some how to use the coverage.

The food bank association and its partners helped enroll 17,848 people in either Medicaid or the health insurance marketplace. About 12 percent of those helped have sought post-enrollment assistance.

The head of one consumer advocacy group said the insurance market is seeing an influx of users who will need some guidance about how insurance works.

“Not everyone is going to run out and get a primary care doctor without some encouragement,” said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

Levine said one of the challenges advocates have faced in signing people up for health care is skepticism from those who could benefit the most from law.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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