- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Jersey advocates for President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul hailed data released Thursday that showed far more residents of the state than expected signed up for insurance under the new federal run exchange.

The federal government said nearly 162,000 people in the state registered as of the April 19. That means that enrollment more than doubled in the state after March 1 and ended up nearly 70 percent higher than the federal projection last year.

Across the country, a last-minute surge meant the sign-ups were about 15 percent more than anticipated.

In New Jersey, people pushing for sign-ups credited an organized campaign capped by weeks of community events where people could sign up for coverage in person and a critical mass of residents signing up and then telling their family and friends about the benefits.

“The other piece of it is people have long been waiting for an opportunity to be insured,” said Maura Collinsgru, a health policy advocate at New Jersey Citizen Action.

Raymond Castro, who analyzes policy at the liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said the enrollments surpassed his projections of 113,000, which were themselves significantly higher than the federal government’s target of 96,000.

Castro said he expects some who registered will never pay their premiums and others will stop paying. But he said the number is higher than expected even accounting for some deterioration.

New Jersey, like most states, elected to have the federal government set up and run its exchange rather than taking the option of managing it at the state-level. The administration of Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes the overhaul, has not promoted the health exchange.

Christie did, however, agree last year to expand the state’s Medicaid program to let people with higher incomes into that subsidized health insurance program.

The data released Thursday show nearly 180,000 people in New Jersey who started to register for the private health insurance exchange were referred to Medicaid. The impact on enrollments, however, is not clear.

At the end of March, the state’s Medicaid enrollment was nearly 1.4 million, about 103,000 more than it was in December before the expansion kicked in.

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