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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017 12:25 pm

State health care enrollees down

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

Nearly 168,000 Hoosiers signed up for health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act through December, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – almost 15,000 fewer than a year earlier.

The latest open enrollment period began Nov. 1 and will end Jan. 31. More than 182,000 Indiana residents had bought polices through the federal insurance marketplace through December 2016, more than 196,000 had done so by the end of the 2015-16 enrollment period and more than 219,000 had by the end of 2014-15 enrollment.

HHS senior counselor Aviva Aron-Dine said Tuesday that state numbers tend to vary from one year to the next for no apparent reason.

"We are seeing about the same degree of variation this year as last year," she said in a conference call with reporters.

Aron-Dine said enrollment has dropped in Louisiana because it expanded its Medicaid health insurance program for low-income residents. Nearly a year ago, HHS said Indiana’s enrollment numbers had declined for the same reason.

"There’s no systematic relationship between premium increases and enrollment growth," Aron-Dine said, likely because most insurance customers qualify for tax credits that reduce their insurance costs.

Two of the six insurers that offered medical plans through the federal marketplace in northeast Indiana in 2016 withdrew from it this year. Three of the four that remain raised their premiums by between 10.5 percent and 41 percent, depending on the policy.

Many of the 37 states participating in Healthcare.gov have experienced double-digit percentage increases in their insurance rates this year.

Aron-Dine said a report released Tuesday by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers found that "the significant premium increases that we saw for 2017 seem to have been a one-time adjustment for initial underpricing and for the phase-out of the temporary reinsurance program."

That program reinsured insurance companies for higher-cost enrollees from 2014 through 2016.

Aron-Dine said the report found that the federal marketplace "should be on track for greater price stability going forward." 

About 11.5 million Americans have enrolled in the marketplace since Nov. 1, HHS said Tuesday, an increase of 286,000 over the same period a year ago.

"We are still seeing growth in the marketplace, and that I think speaks to its underlying strengths," Aron-Dine said, "and even more important, to the strong underlying demand from Americans to the kind of quality affordable coverage the marketplace currently offers."

HHS said the Indiana enrollees included 38,798 new customers as of Dec. 24. The remainder were existing customers who had re-enrolled.

HHS said that 73 percent of Hoosier enrollees qualified for tax credits that average $264 a month.

bfrancisco@jg.net