It was encouraging news for White House hopes of signing up 7
million Americans by March 31, the deadline for 2014 coverage under
President Barack Obama's healthcare law.
That goal has appeared elusive due to the disastrous performance of
HealthCare.gov, the federal enrollment portal through which
Americans in 36 states sign up to buy health insurance, in October
and November, even as the websites of many of the 15 state-run
exchanges fared better.
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange has had about 8,000
enrollments in private health plans since late December, bringing
the total to just over 73,000. "We doubled our call-center staff in
December" to handle the end-of-year surge, said Richard K. Onizuka,
chief executive of the exchange, in a conference call arranged by
the nonprofit healthcare advocacy group Families USA. "And now we're
almost doubling it again."
The deadline is Wednesday for coverage that starts on February 1.
For coverage that begins on March 1, consumers must enroll by
February 15. Those who do not have insurance must enroll by March 31
or incur a tax penalty.
Kentucky, whose Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has been an
enthusiastic supporter of Obama's Affordable Care Act, has been
logging about 2,000 simultaneous users on its website in January,
said Carrie Banahan, executive director of the Kentucky Health
Benefit Exchange. That compares with 600 before the December surge,
when "Kynect" topped 33,000 enrollments in private health insurance.
Banahan did not release January enrollment figures.
Connecticut enrolled about 36,000 people in private health plans
through late December, spokeswoman Kathleen Tallarita said. Since
then it has enrolled "in some cases, 500 to 1,000 in a week," which
would put it behind 2013's pace. The state will release January
enrollment figures on Thursday.
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New York also "is seeing an increase in call volume as we approach
today's deadline," said Danielle Hollihan, deputy director of New
York State of Health, referring to the January 15 cut-off for
coverage beginning February 1. New York has been enrolling about
7,000 people per day in private plans and Medicaid in January, she
said, compared with a total of about 230,000 from October 1 through
California, whose 500,000 private-plan enrollments through December
lead all states, has not released January numbers, but said it
continued "to see a tremendous amount of interest."
Data on sign-up activity for HealthCare.gov in the last two weeks
was not available.
Virtually every state is trying to pump up enrollment by young
adults, since those aged 18 to 34 so far account for only 24 percent
of enrollees nationwide, the Obama administration announced on
The program needs a higher proportion of younger members, who tend
to be healthier and, therefore, less likely to need the costliest
medical care, to offset expenses for sicker beneficiaries.
On Thursday, Covered California will hold a six-hour extravaganza at
YouTube studios in Los Angeles, with a live broadcast of what it
calls "a range of viral entertainment geared toward millennials
about the importance of getting covered."
(Reporting by Sharon Begley; editing by Michele Gershberg and Gunna
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