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Obamacare signups in MT up; 'somewhat meaningless,' insurer says

By Mike Dennison Lee, The Montana Standard, Butte
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 11--HELENA -- Montanans signing up for health insurance policies on the "Obamacare" online marketplace went from a few to a few more in November -- although signups here are slightly outpacing those in neighboring states.

Through November, only 1,382 Montanans have chosen health insurance policies through the federally run website, www.healthcare.gov, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said this morning. That's up from only 212 in October -- and includes those October sign-ups.

The president of a Montana insurer selling policies on the website said today the November are "somewhat meaningless," because the federally run website still wasn't working very well that month.

"What's really going to make or break us is what's going to happen in December," said Jerry Dworak of the Montana Health Co-op. "And I've been very, very encouraged with what has happened since Dec. 1."

Dworak said telephone traffic at Co-op offices has basically tripled since the start of December, evidence that consumers are getting ready to buy policies before a Dec. 23 deadline and that the website is working for them.

The federally run website, launched Oct. 1 in Montana and 35 other states, has been hobbled by major technical problems and rarely worked for most of October and November.

The Obama administration said last week the site should be working for most consumers seeking to buy individual health coverage, and possibly get a subsidy to help pay for their policy. But there are still concerns about whether the site is conveying accurate information to private insurers selling the policies.

HHS today released the latest numbers for Montana and the nation, including the number of consumers using the website, completing applications and actually signing up for an insurance policy.

In Montana, the numbers through November showed:

--About 6,700 applications have been completed through the website, covering about 13,200 people.

--Of those, 9,600 people have been determined as eligible to get coverage through the website. Of those, nearly 4,800 are eligible for a subsidy to help offset the cost of their policy. Subsides are available for many people earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $11,500 to $46,000 for a single person.

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--Only 1,382 people have actually chosen policies on the website, and paid or agreed to pay a premium for coverage starting Jan. 1. Another 637 people have been determined to be eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Plan.

While Montana's signup numbers are low, on a proportionate basis, they are slightly higher than the national average and higher than any of the signups in neighboring states.

People who've signed up so far in Montana represent 0.14 percent of the state's population. The national average is 0.11 percent, and Idaho is right at the national average. Wyoming's signups are slightly lower, and signups in the Dakotas are about one-third the level in Montana.

The state doing the best on a percentage basis is Vermont, which is running its own marketplace. Through November, 0.8 percent of its population has signed up for a policy through the website -- about six times the level in Montana.


(c)2013 The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.)

Visit The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.) at www.mtstandard.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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