With one week left to sign up for health insurance through the state health exchange for coverage Jan. 1, state health officials and advocates have turned to churches and religious leaders to ensure everyone gets the message.

And Thursday, several said they would take it up with their congregations.


"We in Maryland's faith community are doing all we can to make sure that every Marylander who is eligible for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act signs up," said the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal of Diocese of Maryland, during a news conference at his cathedral hosted by the advocacy group Maryland Health Care for All Coalition.

The exchange website, marylandhealthconnection.gov, was set up for people who don't get insurance through their employers. Close to 460,000 people enrolled in public and private plans during the last open enrollment.

The state is using a new system, replacing the dysfunctional website from last year, but officials have said people will be automatically re-enrolled if possible through their insurers. But everyone who received subsidies last year — about 80 percent — will have to re-enroll to keep the benefit.

About 81,000 signed up last year for private plans, and about 65,000 still had those plans as open enrollment approached this year on Nov. 15, according to the exchange.

About 50,000 of those people received subsidies, so "that is the group that is our highest priority right now," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, state health secretary and board chairman of the exchange. However, he added, anyone who needs coverage to start in January needs to sign up by Dec. 18.

The exchange and the insurance companies have been sending letters and emails and making calls to current enrollees to make sure they know about the deadline.

As of last week, about a quarter of the 65,000 still using their private plans had re-enrolled, Sharfstein said. (Those who dropped their coverage include people who got jobs that offer health care, moved or saw no benefit from having the insurance.)

The number re-enrolled is probably now higher, said Sharfstein, who expects a surge in the next week by procrastinators.

As of Thursday, Sharfstein said, about 76,600 people had enrolled — 44,000 in private plans and 33,000 in Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low income people.

"We're definitely seeing an uptick" in enrollments, said Sharfstein.

The exchange will continue to host enrollment fairs, operate a call center and support so-called "navigator" groups helping to sign up consumers through open enrollment, which ends Feb. 15.