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Slight uptick in Obamacare signups in November

By Mike Dennison, 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, and 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 Wednesday. 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 Wednesday the November numbers 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 the website is working for them and consumers are getting ready to buy policies before a Dec. 23 deadline.

The state online marketplace is a key component of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as it offers health insurance policies to people who don't have access to larger, employer-based group health plans.

People are supposed to be able to shop the marketplace and, if they qualify, get federal subsidies to help pay for the policies. Most people earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level -- $11,500 to $46,000 for a single person -- are eligible for subsidies.

But 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. State-run websites also have had problems and must rely partly on the federal apparatus.

In Montana, the Co-op, PacificSource and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana are selling policies on the marketplace.

On Wednesday, HHS released numbers on the website's use through November, as well as figures from all state marketplaces.

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In Montana, the report said about 6,700 applications have been completed through the federal website, covering about 13,200 people.

Of those, 9,600 people have been found eligible to get coverage through the website and nearly 4,800 are eligible for a subsidy.

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 found to be eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Plan.

While Montana's signup numbers are low, they are slightly higher, on a proportional basis, than the national average and 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. All of these states have federally run marketplaces.

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(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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