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Health exchange on pace to meet, exceed enrollment this year

With less than two weeks left to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, advocates and officials launched their last push to draw Maryland residents.

The effort announced Wednesday involves enrolling people through churches and other faith-based groups, a campaign called "Extol & Enroll."

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"It is important to us that our people have adequate health care and are living healthy lives," said the Rev. Cleveland Mason, president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention of Maryland.

He spoke during a news conference Wednesday that drew lawmakers, advocates from the Healthcare for All! Coalition and the NAACP, and officials from the state health exchange, the online market created to enroll people who do not get health insurance through work.

The statewide efforts come as Republicans in Congress, backed by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, work to jettison or replace large elements of the law known as Obamacare. More than 20 million people have gained health insurance nationally under the law. New estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office say the repeal efforts could leave 18 million people without coverage in the first year and send premiums up for everyone else.

The act insured more than 400,000 Marylanders last year, or about one in six people in the state, through private plans and an expansion of Medicaid. With about 370,000 enrolled so far for 2017 coverage, enrollment is on track to at least match the tally by the end of open enrollment Jan. 31, said Jonathan Kromm, the exchange's acting executive director.

The state's uninsured rate in 2016 was about 6.6 percent, about half what it was before the law began insuring people in 2014. The biggest decrease was logged in Somerset County, where the rate dropped to 7 percent this year from 18 percent in 2013. Allegany and Wicomico counties and Baltimore City also had large decreases in the rate of uninsured, according to the health exchange.

"Behind the numbers are important stories," said Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Baltimore County. To relay the importance of insurance coverage, "we need citizen-to-citizen testimonials."

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