By Rose Hoban

With only days to go before the end of this year’s health insurance exchange open-enrollment period, organizers took to the road to get stragglers signed up for coverage.

Close to a half-million North Carolinians have either been re-enrolled or newly enrolled for health insurance that’s available as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Proponents believe they’ll easily top the half-million mark by the time open enrollment ends on Feb. 15.

Advocates, ministers, organizers and patient enrollment “assisters” gathered in front of their tour bus in Raleigh Wednesday morning to plan to get more people enrolled for health insurance before the Feb. 15 deadline. Photo credit: Sorien Schmidt, Enroll America

“We were at 450,000, so we should get to half a million,” said Sorien Schmidt, state head of Enroll America, a not-for-profit organization that’s coordinating sign-ups for the exchanges in 11 states. “How much over that, I don’t know.”

Schmidt said her organization didn’t set any goals this year because it’s only the second year for enrollment and the first year was marked by website and other glitches.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” she said.

During her telephone interview with N.C. Health News, Schmidt was riding on a bus that’s wrapped with messages in English and Spanish urging people to “Get Covered,” or “Aseguráte.” The bus stopped Tuesday in Asheville, Winston-Salem and Greensboro and on Wednesday in Raleigh. Schmidt was headed to Charlotte for another enrollment rally.

“We had partners, volunteers, assisters and community members there,” Schmidt said. “It was a great turnout.”

Young, new, Medicaid-eligible

Officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that as of Jan. 30, North Carolina had 479,748 enrollees for coverage. In the Charlotte metropolitan area, 122,837 people have signed up for coverage, while in Raleigh a little more than 60,000 people have enrolled.

[pullquote_left]People who want help signing up for insurance can call 1-855-733-3711 to find out who in their county can help them.[/pullquote_left]More than a quarter of this year’s enrollees are the so-called “young invincibles.” Younger adults, who as a group are generally healthy, balance out insurance companies’ financial risks of covering older people, who are more likely to become ill. At least 36,000 enrollees are children under 18, who also tend to cost less to insure.

Another 35,000 enrollees are people who in signing up were found to be eligible for coverage under North Carolina’s Medicaid program, according to an update from CMS issued last week.

About 92 percent of enrollees qualified for financial assistance in the form of tax subsidies, higher than the national rate of 87 percent.

In North Carolina, 40 percent of enrollees (more than 187,000 people) are new. The rest (more than 280,000), reenrolled in plans from last year. Not all of the 357,584 people who enrolled during the first year are coming back to the marketplace: Some people got jobs that provide insurance coverage, others simply haven’t reenrolled. And some people earned too little to qualify for financial help this year; for a family of four, that would be annual earnings of about $31,500.

Enroll America national president Anne Filipic said that after last year’s enrollment period her organization did a national survey of people who didn’t enroll. She said they learned that many people didn’t realize they would be eligible for financial help.

“They assumed they could not find affordable options,“ Filipic said. “They’d heard of the Affordable Care Act, but they thought they couldn’t afford it. Most didn’t know about tax subsidies.”

After a slowdown in enrollment during the holidays, the pace has picked back up. Filipic said North Carolina’s enrollment rate is one of the highest in the country, coming in just behind Florida’s.

“I’d point to collaboration among organizations and local leaders throughout the state,” Filipic said.

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