South Jersey-based health groups that help customers navigate the open enrollment process under the Affordable Care Act are seeing an influx of applications as the Monday deadline nears.
“The last few weeks the amount of people looking to apply has really picked up,” said Kim Tweed, marketing and outreach coordinator for CompleteCare Health Network in Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties. “It seems like a lot of people in life wait for the last minute to do things, and this is no different.”
Last-minute activity in the federal health insurance marketplace is reflected nationally as well. The Obama administration said there were more than 1.5 million visits to healthcare.gov and 430,000 calls to phone centers Wednesday alone. Since October, more than 6 million people have enrolled in private health insurance plans in state and federal marketplaces.
Robin Stockton, director of the Center for Family Services’ navigator program in seven South Jersey counties, said calls requesting in-person consultations increased 30 percent to 40 percent last week.
AtlantiCare, another certified counselor organization in the region, reported a small bump in applications in the final week before the deadline through the federal marketplace, and a larger increase through New Jersey Family Care, the state’s recently expanded Medicaid program for predominantly low-income residents.
Although the deadline for this year is Monday, a recently announced extension will give applicants additional time if they start to enroll but have not finished by then. Tweed suggested people start the enrollment process to be eligible for extensions, even if they cannot finish by Monday.
CompleteCare Health Network, AtlantiCare and the Center for Family Services are among about a dozen organizations in the region identified on the federal healthcare.gov website. That means they can assist applications and enrollment or answer questions.
Tweed said CompleteCare has 20 counselors completing 300 to 400 applications per week through the Affordable Care Act as well as New Jersey Family Care.
In New Jersey, 74,370 people had selected a marketplace plan by March 1, the latest state-level data available Friday. In the U.S., New Jersey ranked 15th in total enrollments, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show.
The age of those enrolling is being closely followed because the premiums paid by the younger and healthier are intended to subsidize others. In New Jersey, 23 percent of enrollees were between ages 18 and 34. The U.S. average was 25 percent.
Widespread technical issues on healthcare.gov last year were among problems that plagued the rollout of the new health care law. Tweed said her organization did paper applications until mid-November, waiting for those glitches and bugs to be resolved.
“Early on, I think people were a little skeptical about it, especially in early October,” she said.
“(Now), it’s a pretty steady flow of people,” she said.
Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said the surge in applications is similar to what the federal website experienced at the end of December, when consumers enrolled for coverage beginning Jan. 1.
In a blog post, Bataille said the website can handle 100,000 users at the same time.
AtlantiCare handled more than 3,000 inquires on insurance sign-ups from October to February, said Maureen Donzuso, director of access management at the AtlantiCare Access Center. It helped enroll 294 people in the federal marketplace and 945 through the state Medicaid program, she said.
Through February, the most popular Affordable Care Act plan category in New Jersey has been the silver plan, representing 68 percent of enrollment.
The silver plan will pay an average of 70 percent of the overall cost of health benefits, the government says. By comparison, the bronze plan pays about 60 percent on average; the platinum, about 90 percent.
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