Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 12, 2013

Health insurance numbers below projections

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Only 6,847 Michiganders selected marketplace health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act through November, less than 1 percent of the state’s population.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new enrollment numbers Wednesday. An expert on the Affordable Care Act said numbers are clearly behind what officials expected when the Health Insurance Marketplace launched.

“Our center did some projections looking at the number of people who could reasonably be expected to be enrolled in 2014, with open enrollment through March,” said Josh Fangmeier, a policy analyst at the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation. “(The) projection was for 127,000 for coverage. It’s going to be fairly difficult to reach that enrollment number.”

It’s also unclear how the law is affecting Michigan businesses. Fangmeier said a lot of business leaders likely are standing by to see how its implementation will play out before making big decisions on employees’ health insurance coverage.

“I know a lot of businesses have had conversations about whether they want to offer health insurance benefits to employees or have them drop coverage and go to the marketplace where they might qualify for a tax credit and more comprehensive coverage,” Fangmeier said. “I don’t know if we have quite enough evidence yet to know whether employers are making those strategic decisions.

“They want to make sure the marketplace is working well and would offer a fairly good deal for their employees,” he said.

The new numbers show 52,780 Michigan residents completed applications for health insurance through November. Those applications feasibly would cover up to 98,235 individuals.

No data is available on the fewer than 7,000 who’ve picked plans as to how many made their first policy payment, which is a requirement for the policies to kick in.

The Michigan Health Insurance Exchange is run by the federal government.

The Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services is not involved in the website’s functions, but is working to educate consumers on ways to navigate the system.

“We’ve seen an increase in frustrated consumers wanting understanding on why their insurance plan was cancelled and we’ve had a number of phone calls from people who are frustrated with the website,” said Caleb Buhs, spokesman for the Department of Insurance and Financial Services. “We can see from a Michigander perspective that they are frustrated and confused. It’s a confusing law.”

Still, there are bright spots.

“From what we are hearing with consumer experiences using, its gotten a lot better in the last week,” Fangmeier said.