Enrollment in Maryland’s health insurance exchange grew to a four-year high, even as the national health care law known as Obamacare continues to come under legal and regulatory assault.
About 158,000 people signed up for private health insurance in 2020 through Maryland Health Connection, the state’s online marketplace created for people who do not get their coverage through an employer or government program.
There were 1,637 more people tapping the insurance than a year ago, and exchange officials said enrollment increased in 20 of 24 state jurisdictions.
Another 56,550 people signed up for coverage directly with one of two insurance companies offering plans on the individual market, bringing the total insured for 2020 to 215,150. That represents a 1 percent increase over 2019, beating an analyst’s expectations.
People who had begun to sign up but did not finish before the enrollment period concluded on Sunday will be allowed to complete their applications.
The federal exchange that serves about three dozen states also will remain open until Dec. 18 for those who were unable to finish enrollment. Almost 2.9 million people had enrolled in the federal exchange through the end of November.
“We’re happy to continue to get more people into coverage, including many who were previously shut out of the individual market because of pre-existing conditions,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, in a statement. “With a lot of support, we’re helping to drive the state’s uninsured rate to 6 percent, the lowest ever.”
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State officials had expressed optimism that enrollment would grow because of steps the Maryland General Assembly took in the past two years to create a reinsurance program that would help offset the costs from insurers’ biggest users. That led to a reduction in the cost of premiums, which had been skyrocketing and making coverage unaffordable for the minority of people enrolled who did not receive federal subsidies to offset the monthly costs.
Premiums decreased an average of 10% for 2020, after decreasing an average of 13 percent this year.
“After years of devastating rate increases, it is certainly gratifying to see our individual market stabilize and to see more Marylanders signing up for coverage,” Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. said in a statement.
The state also took other steps to boost enrollment, including passing legislation to use information from state income taxes to automatically notify willing residents whether they qualify for free or reduced cost coverage.
The rise in enrollment is happening even as federal support for the healthcare law has been eroded. A federal reinsurance program had been cut, along with programs for marketing the health insurance and paying for assistance in enrolling.
The health law also faces a legal challenge to the overall program since Congress decided not to enforce a mandate that all Americans buy insurance.
While Maryland continues to see success in enrolling people, exchange and insurance officials have not been able to boost the number of insurers participating in the program. There are two: CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente.