State health insurance enrollment exceeds goal

Health insurance enrollment in Maryland under Obamacare tops goal

More than 162,000 Marylanders signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a 33 percent jump from last year that surpassed a state goal of 150,000 new people on the health insurance rolls.

Officials with the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which oversees the state's enrollment efforts, released Tuesday the final numbers for this year's three-month enrollment period, which ended Feb. 5. Consumers had an extra five days to get insurance this year because of the January snowstorm that crippled the region.

In addition to those buying private insurance, another 362,415 state residents enrolled in Medicaid. A total of 1.2 million people were enrolled in the Medicaid program for low-income adults or the Maryland Children's Health Program for young people at the end of January. Consumers can enroll in Medicaid all year long.

"We are just pleased with the way things ended up and that there are many more thousands of Marylanders who now have the security of health insurance," said Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

Exchange officials beefed up marketing to the hardest-to-reach groups this year and saw a 37 percent rise in African-American enrollment and a 244 percent increase among Hispanics. New customers accounted for 31 percent of the enrollees. State insurance officials estimated that nearly 300,000 people in the state were uninsured when enrollment season began.

Those who used the online marketplace say the enrollment process was smoother this year, the third open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. An estimated 800,000 Maryland residents were without health insurance at the start of the first year of enrollment, but about half were undocumented immigrants and not eligible for insurance coverage under the federal law.

There were far fewer technical hiccups than in the first year, when the Maryland online enrollment system crashed on the first day. Consumers also have been becoming savvier about shopping around for the best deals.

Still, Noah and Alexis Lampert, a Silver Spring couple who are expecting a baby in May, experienced problems enrolling. Their application was stuck for more than a month, but after receiving help from an exchange agent, they are relieved to have more-affordable coverage after exceeding their budget last year. He was able to get a subsidized plan through CareFirst, and she was enrolled in Medicaid.

"Unfortunately, the plan we chose was far too expensive and not very good," he said of the former plan. "We were shopping on the exchange to find the best price for health insurance that met our needs."

Dr. Peter Beilenson, CEO of Evergreen Health Co-op, attributed the big increase in enrollment this year to more people knowing about his co-op, technical improvements on the exchange and penalties this year that could cost as much as buying insurance.

Evergreen's enrollment nearly tripled from last year to about 38,000 paid members. Another 3,000 individuals enrolled but have not yet paid. Beilenson believes Evergreen likely gained market share from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which raised rates significantly and saw its share of exchange enrollees drop to 57 percent this year from 79 percent last year.

"We are very pleased," Beilenson said. "We like to grow surely and steadily to make sure we provide excellent service."

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

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