36K Sign Up for Health Insurance in Montana

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — More than 36,500 people in Montana signed up for insurance through the online marketplace central to the health care overhaul law, and now state officials will try to figure out how many more enrolled without using the exchange and how many were previously uninsured.

The 36,584 Montanans who selected plans through the federal exchange by the end of the open-enrollment period exceeded federal health officials’ original target of 31,000, according to data released Thursday by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The figures include people allowed to sign up during a two-week extension because they had started their applications before the March 31 deadline expired.

But that number doesn’t include those who bypassed the exchange to sign up for Affordable Care Act plans. For example, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana signed 20,000 people through the exchange but another 31,000 people offline, for a total of 51,000 during open enrollment, said spokesman John Doran.

Many people who signed up without going through the exchanges may not have qualified for the subsidies offered through the online marketplace, Doran said.

“That doesn’t mean they didn’t need it,” he said.

Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen’s office is putting together a survey to send to all of the state’s insurers to find out how many policies were sold outside of the exchange and how many more people in Montana are insured compared to before the enrollment period began Oct. 1, said deputy commissioner Adam Schafer.

The survey also will attempt to find out how many people who signed up were previously uninsured and didn’t just switch policies, he said.

The exchange data “doesn’t give us the back side of the story and that’s what we’re going to try to find out with our survey,” Schafer said.

The survey should be completed and sent to insurers sometime next week, he said.

Federal health officials said 55,675 people in Montana completed applications through the exchange and were eligible for coverage. Of those, 39,572 were eligible for financial assistance and 4,638 were eligible for Medicaid of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Of the 36,584 people who selected plans, 53 percent are women and 31 percent are between the ages of 55 and 64.

More than half chose the second-lowest “silver” plans out of the four levels of coverage.

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