Maryland expects more people to enroll in Obamacare health plans because of lower premiums

State officials expect the number of people who enroll in health plans under Obamacare to jump 5.8 percent because of a reinsurance plan that will drive down premiums.

The increase comes after a 2.5 percent decline in enrollment last year that came when several years of premium increases made insurance plans too costly for some, said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which manages Obamacare enrollment in the state.

Enrollment starts Nov. 1 and runs until Dec. 15 for plans that take effect January 1.

The agency has earmarked an extra $1 million toward marketing to get the word out to people this year that a plan might fit their budget.

“We really want to reach out to people who thought in the past it was not affordable,” Eberle said Wednesday during a meeting with the Baltimore Sun editorial board.

Premiums are decreasing by between 7.4 percent and 17 percent because of the reinsurance plan, which creates a pot of money for insurers to help cover the most expensive claims, usually from the sickest patients.

The pool is funded by a tax on insurance carriers that Congress had eliminated at the federal level, but that the state received special permission to maintain. The program was created by a bipartisan state effort to prevent Obamacare from collapsing in Maryland.

About 150,000 Marylanders buy health insurance through the exchange.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States are again the only two insurers offering plans in the state this year. People can browse and compare plans before enrollment through the state exchange website or mobile app.

Rising rates have been a particular hurdle for the 20 percent of consumers who do not qualify for federal subsides to help offset costs.

The number of people buying plans on the exchange or directly from an insurer has dropped by about 18 percent since 2015, according to state insurance statistics. People may drop plans for other reasons than cost, including getting a job with an employee-sponsored plan.

Eberle said she expects an increase in enrollment even as deductibles are anticipated to increase. The average medical deductible per plan will rise from $4,072 last year to $4,365, according to the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission. Buyers can offset high deductibles with the lower premiums, she said.

The agency will launch a marketing campaign after Election Day next month around the theme “Beat the rush.”

The campaign will feature radio, television and digital advertising encouraging people to enroll early and reminding them that plans are affordable. There will be targeted outreach to hard-to-reach communities, such as Latinos and African-Americans, in ethnic newspapers. There also will be enrollment events throughout the state.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

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