Arizona health insurance signups soar to 120,000

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- The number of Arizonans who signed up for a health insurance plan using the Affordable Care Act's health care marketplace nearly doubled in the final month of open enrollment, as a last-minute rush to get insured sent total enrollment above what was projected for the state, according to a report released by federal officials Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report shows more than 120,000 people selected a plan during the six-month open enrollment period that ended March 31, a huge jump that more than doubled the number who had enrolled just a month earlier. The figures include people allowed to sign up during a two-week extension after the March 31 deadline because they had started their applications.

The figures are above the 111,000 Arizonans the government projected to choose plans. Another 101,000 people were determined to be eligible for Arizona's Medicaid plan for the poor.

The government didn't release statistics on how many people actually paid a premium. A report released Wednesday by U.S. House Republicans said 67 percent of people who had signed up through federal marketplaces had paid their first month's premiums as of April 15, although that was a far lower number than reported by some individual insurers.

The government also for the first time broke out those who signed up by race, and nationally the numbers of Hispanics signing up were a disappointment.

That was true also in Arizona, where U.S. Census Bureau statistics show about 30 percent of residents are Hispanic. The numbers for health insurance signups show just over 24 percent of those seeking insurance were Hispanic, well below the state's population mix. Only about 65 percent of people signing up nationally provided optional race information.

But that's not surprising, said Dr. Daniel Derksen, a public health policy and management professor at the University of Arizona who helped design New Mexico's health insurance exchanges. He noted that the federal website was faulty in October, and the Spanish language version was essentially unusable through November.

"So given that most of the enrollment for Hispanic/Latinos really happened in the last two months, it's higher than you might expect," Derksen said.

The shortfall makes it even more important for outreach groups to target Hispanic and American Indian populations for signups during the next open enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, 2015. American Indians make up 5.3 percent of the state's population but just 0.6 percent of total enrollment in Arizona. Tribal members are exempt from financial penalties for not having insurance under the health care law.

"You have to tailor the education in a culturally appropriate way, in the language that a person is comfortable with," Derksen said. "A lot of the terms were very new to people, whether it was Spanish or English. Co-Pays and deductibles and cost-sharing and those kinds of terms are not terms that a lot of people buying health insurance for the first time really understand and grasp quickly. Over time, as people get more familiar with these terns, I think the enrollment velocity will be better."

According to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1.2 million of 6.5 million Arizonans did not have health insurance in 2011, 18 percent of the population. A report prepared for Gov. Jan Brewer in 2012 said an estimated 470,000 out of 621,000 eligible people were expected to be getting insurance through the federal marketplace by 2016.

Another 300,000 will gain coverage from the state's expansion of its Medicaid plan for the poor, most from a population that was previously covered before a budget crisis forced an enrollment freeze. As of April 1, 113,000 people who had been eligible before the freeze were re-enrolled and 14,000 people earning between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty line had enrolled since Jan. 1.

Illegal immigrants are not eligible to get insurance through either the federal marketplace or from Medicaid.

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