Big boost from 2015

Sign-ups run­ning nearly 25 per­cent above last year.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John In­gold

With un­cer­tainty loom­ing over the fu­ture of Amer­i­can health care, thou­sands more Coloradans have signed up for health in­sur­ance on the state’s Oba­macare ex­change this year com­pared with the same time last year, ac­cord­ing to new num­bers re­leased Thurs­day.

Through Novem­ber, 37,948 peo­ple — nearly a 25 per­cent in­crease — had signed up for med­i­cal and den­tal in­sur­ance plans on Con­nect for Health Colorado, the state’s ex­change. In Novem­ber 2015, 30,777 peo­ple signed up.

Early Novem­ber — a pe­riod that co­in­cided with both the start of open en­roll­ment and the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — saw es­pe­cially strong num­bers, with 30 per­cent more sign-ups than in the same pe­riod in 2015. While Repub­li­cans have vowed to re­peal or sig­nif­i­cantly amend Oba­macare in a Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, health in­sur­ance plans signed up for now can­not be can­celed midyear. Fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing tax cred­its, to help cover pre­mi­ums for plans sold on the ex­change will also re­main in place for at least a year.

“We know that there is a lot of dis­cus­sion now about the fu­ture di­rec­tion of health care,” Kevin Pat­ter­son, the CEO of Con­nect for Health Colorado, said in a state­ment, “but what re­mains con­stant and true is the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing the health and fi­nan­cial fu­ture of all Coloradans.”

Emily John­son, a pol­icy and sta­tis­ti­cal an­a­lyst at the Colorado Health In­sti­tute, said the elec­tion may have a lit­tle some­thing to do with the in­creased en­roll­ment. But more likely, she said, is that Con­nect for Health Colorado is mak­ing fur­ther progress in sign­ing up peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for tax cred­its, es­pe­cially now that the tax penalty for not hav­ing in­sur­ance has fully taken ef­fect.

In 2014, there were 254,000 peo­ple in Colorado el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive tax cred­its to help pay for coverage, but only 72,000 of them had signed up, John­son said.

To­tal sign-ups for Con­nect for Health plans have in­creased ev­ery year since the ex­change’s first ope­nen­roll­ment pe­riod in 2013. En­roll­ment jumped 19 per­cent dur­ing last year’s open-en­roll­ment pe­riod.

“My guess is Con­nect for Health is just kind of chip­ping away at that num­ber,” John­son said.

Colorado’s surge in en­roll­ment this year mir­rors that na­tion­ally. More than 2.1 mil­lion peo­ple have so far signed up for plans on Health­, the Oba­macare mar­ket­place for peo­ple in the 39 states that did not set up their own ex­changes. That is nearly 100,000 more peo­ple than who signed up dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2015. More than 300,000 peo­ple signed up on Health­ this year in the three days af­ter the elec­tion.

Open en­roll­ment on Con­nect for Health Colorado runs through Jan. 31, 2017. Con­sumers, though, have only un­til Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage that kicks in Jan. 1.

Once open en­roll­ment is closed, only peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence a “lifechang­ing event” — such as a mar­riage or di­vorce, the birth of a child, or the loss of em­ployer-spon­sored in­sur­ance — can sign up through the ex­change.

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