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Maryland health exchange opens for enrollment

The state's online health exchange opens today for enrollment in 2017 health insurance plans.

People who do not have coverage through an employer can review plans from four insurers and enroll on the exchange website, marylandhealthconnection.gov.

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UnitedHealthcare, which covered about 10 percent of enrollees last year, pulled out of Maryland's exchange and many other exchanges around the country. It will stop providing coverage to those currently insured at the end of the year.

This year, the exchange also unveiled a mobile app for searching and enrolling.

For those who want in-person assistance choosing a plan and enrolling, there are special "navigators" that are operating storefront offices. A list of these offices, as well as brokers offering enrollment assistance around the state, is available on the exchange website. The exchange also operates an assistance call center at 1-855-642-8572.

Last year, the exchange enrolled 163,000 people in private plans, an increase of 33 percent from the year before. Premiums have increased this year, some by more than 30 percent, though exchange officials note many people qualify for federal subsidies. For others, officials encourage consumers to shop around and consider premium as well as out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles.

The hefty increases have drawn criticism from foes of the Affordable Care Act, who have repeatedly called for the law to be repealed. But this year, the increases have also lead to calls from the law's supporters for fixes such as increased subsidies and a public health insurance option.

This year is the exchange's fourth, and U.S. Census Bureau data shows the state's uninsured rate dropped to 6.6 percent in 2015 from 10.2 percent in 2013. Before the Affordable Care Act of 2010, about 14.5 percent were uninsured, according to estimates from the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Some state residents remain ineligible because they are undocumented immigrants.

Open enrollment ends Jan. 31.

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