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Obamacare Adds 8 Million

But figures show several shortcomings remain

May 2, 2014
By CARLA K. JOHNSON AP Medical Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Blue or red, a majority of states have exceeded their health care sign-up targets under President Barack Obama's law - something that would have been hard to imagine after last fall's botched rollout of insurance markets.

But the administration's final numbers, released Thursday, also expose shortcomings, including subpar enrollment among Hispanics, the nation's largest minority group and also its least insured.

Still, the reported state-by-state performance indicates that the health care law is making inroads around the country, even as Republicans say repealing Obamacare will be a winning issue in the fall congressional elections. An Associated Press analysis of the government numbers found that 31 states met or exceeded enrollment targets set by the administration before the insurance exchanges opened. Twenty of those are led by Republican governors, many of whom were against the program.

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President Barack Obama’s health care law has added 8 million people through the new insurance markets, the administration claims.

The Health and Human Services Department said 8 million Americans chose a health plan through the new insurance markets in the first year of the historic health care overhaul. Some 4.8 million more gained coverage through Medicaid and children's insurance programs. A surge in enrollments since March 1 doubled sign-ups in some states, including Texas, Georgia and Florida.

"There is reason to be optimistic about what the law can deliver, both in terms of coverage and affordable insurance options" said Andy Hyman of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "In time, it will become part of the bloodstream of our health care system." Hyman is a senior program officer working to expand coverage.

With Republicans vowing to make the failures of the law a main theme of their midterm election push, the Obama administration will need to convince the public that it has been a success. A recent administration announcement of the 8 million sign-ups failed to move public opinion much, with negative views of the law more common than positive ones. But polls also have found that Americans don't want the law repealed, preferring that Congress work to improve it instead.

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Almost 20,000 West Virginians have enrolled in health coverage through the federal marketplace.

As of March 31, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said only 6 percent of West Virginia's federal exchange signups were between 18 to 25 years old, tied with Minnesota for the lowest percentage in the country. At 13 percent of exchange signups, West Virginia is also tied with Arizona and Vermont for lowest percentage of 26 to 34 year olds enrolled.

Of about 19,860 West Virginia enrollees, 57 percent are female.



Roughly 155,000 Ohio residents picked health plans in the new insurance marketplace, falling short of a target set by the administration before the exchanges opened.

The figures also showed that Ohio saw a surge of enrollees in the final month of the first open enrollment period under the law.

Sign-ups almost doubled, with 154,668 Ohioans selecting a plan through the federal exchange. As of March 1, the federal government had said 78,925 chose plans.

The figure was shy of the 190,000 residents the government projected would be enrolled by March 31.

Younger and healthier than the U.S. population as a whole, Hispanics had been viewed as crucial to the success of Obama's coverage expansion. But the final count was disappointing. Hispanics account for 14.5 percent of those eligible for coverage on the new health insurance markets, but they represented 10.7 percent of the actual enrollees who also volunteered their race or ethnicity, the government reported.

Many Hispanics tried to get coverage but hit roadblocks, said Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, a nonpartisan advocacy network. The reasons are numerous: A Spanish version of the federal health care website was delayed and there was a shortage of in-person guides reaching out to Latinos.

For some mixed-status families, a fear of immigration authorities may have discouraged enrollment. Immigrants who are in the United States illegally cannot participate in the new health insurance system, but many have eligible relatives who are citizens or legal residents.

"This is only the first step in a long race," Delgado said. "Many people who are uninsured don't understand the language of insurance. Big media campaigns aren't as effective for actual enrollment as the one-on-one approach."

The new report didn't include information on how many of the newly enrolled have actually paid their insurance premiums. With grace periods for enrolling extending into mid-April, many who have signed up weren't obligated to pay until this week. A report released Wednesday by House Republicans said 67 percent of people who had signed up through federal marketplaces had paid their first month's premiums as of April 15, far lower than payment rates reported by some individual insurers, which were more in the range of 85 percent or above.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday it was no surprise that GOP lawmakers who have voted to repeal the law would put out a downbeat report about the law's progress. He said official figures on paid premiums would come out when the complete data that is currently being compiled is ready. "I'm confident it's not going to be 67 percent. I don't know what it's going to be," Carney said.

Even though the administration is claiming huge successes, the Congressional Budget Office projects more than 40 million people will still be uninsured this year, and a more complete picture of who's still uninsured won't emerge until next year with the first results from large national surveys.

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