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N.C. Obamacare Signups Strong as Deadline Looms


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By Rose Hoban

With less than two weeks to go before the end of the enrollment period for marketplace insurance on Jan. 31, North Carolina enrollment in plans remains strong.

That’s despite well-publicized glitches in processing applications and payments at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Pastors were encouraged to place drop boxes in their churches to collect cards from people seeking information on how to sign up for insurance.

During the enrollment period, pastors have been encouraged to place drop boxes in their churches to collect cards from people seeking information on how to sign up for insurance. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 569,694 people in North Carolina have selected a marketplace plan. Already that’s more people who have enrolled for insurance than the total in the state who enrolled last year.

Of that number, 88 percent have qualified for financial assistance.

As of early January, the largest percentage (42 percent) of enrollees from North Carolina fell into the income bracket between 100 and 150 percent of the federal poverty level ($24,250-$36,375 for a family of four). That trend holds true for states that have not expanded the Medicaid program, as allowed for under the Affordable Care Act.

In states which have expanded the Medicaid program, fewer enrollees come from that income level.

This week, Gov. Pat McCrory said he’s still not ready to support expansion of the program unless federal officials allow North Carolina to add a work requirement to eligibility.

“When you’re talking about expanding Medicaid, you’re really talking about expanding Obamacare,” McCrory said. “We still don’t know the real impact of Obamacare. We’re seeing premiums go up, seeing companies dropping insurance; we’re seeing individuals and young people not signing up for insurance.”

Federal officials estimate that more than a million of North Carolina’s 10 million people are eligible to buy insurance on the marketplace, with expected enrollment somewhere over 600,000.

Another 32,708 people who attempted to enroll in insurance were determined to have incomes low enough to be eligible for North Carolina’s Medicaid program.

Old and new

1-855-733-3711 is a statewide hotline to find in-person help for signing up.“We are seeing so many people enrolling,” said Lovemore Masakadza, the North Carolina spokesman for Enroll America, a not-for-profit organization that’s coordinating sign-ups for the exchanges in 11 states. “It’s a mix of new and old people who need to re-enroll.”

In 2014, North Carolina had one of the highest rates of eligible enrollees signing up for insurance on the marketplace. But Masakadza said his organization this year was doing special outreach to Latinos and African-Americans.

“We’ve seen that we have a lot of uninsured Latinos and African-Americans, so we’ve been collaborating with community groups and organizations to reach out to those people.”

An update released by federal officials in the beginning of January showed 70 percent of enrollees in North Carolina were white, 6 percent Latino and 16 percent African-American. But Masakadza pointed out that those figures only include people who self-reported their race or ethnicity, less than half of the total enrollees.

“We’ve been able to reach out to some people we weren’t able to reach out to in the previous enrollment period,” he said.

Rural residents make up about a quarter (26 percent) of North Carolina’s enrollees; rural folks are another target group.

The same federal report showed close to half (45 percent) of the people who were still enrolled in marketplace plans in November 2015 decided to switch their plans, while another 27 percent of people enrolled last year were automatically re-enrolled in the same plan as last year.

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About 37 percent of North Carolina enrollees are under the age of 34, an important figure because younger people cost less to insure and their premiums help make up for lower-cost plans being offered to older adults under 65 years old.

Some states, such as Utah, have had as many as 55 percent of their enrollees under the age of 34.

With only 11 days remaining, Masakadza said his organization is reaching out to people they met earlier in the open-enrollment period, encouraging them to sit down with in-person assisters to fill out their forms.

“We want to make sure people don’t wait until the bitter end,” he said. “So many people wait until the deadline; that tends to motivate some people.”

But this year has an additional motivation for enrollees. The tax penalty for not being covered rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of yearly income, whichever is greater, once the deadline passes on Jan. 31.

“Once some people find out the insurance covers things like prevention and pharmaceuticals, and screenings are covered, they’re more likely to check out their options,” Masakadza said.

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