- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - More than 43,400 Louisiana residents have signed up for health care coverage next year under the Affordable Care Act, which is nearly a quarter of last year’s total so far.

The enrollment figure in federal Health Insurance Marketplace plans is as of Nov. 28, The Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/1lyqRlE). Experts said many people are waiting closer to the date to enroll, confused by changes or shopping around to avoid increased costs.

“They are waiting until the last minute. They’re being worked, it’s just not happening (enrollment) as quick as people think it’s going to,” said B. Ronnell Nolan, president and chief executive officer of Baton Rouge-based Health Agents for America. “Or people just can’t afford it.”

Open enrollment ends Jan. 31, but consumers have until Dec. 15 to enroll if they want their coverage to begin on Jan. 1, rather than March 1. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, consumers who had a plan in 2015 and don’t pick another by Dec. 15 will be automatically re-enrolled.

A year ago, 186,277 Louisiana residents either picked plans or were automatically re-enrolled in health plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Nolan said the low first-month enrollment numbers appear to be the result of a combination of factors. The premiums for individual coverage are expected to increase an average of 6.4 percent to 29.5 percent in Louisiana.

Brian Burton, state director of Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, said it’s difficult to compare current enrollment figures to last year’s.

In 2014, open enrollment began Nov. 15 and ended Feb. 15, Burton said. The enrollment period also was extended for people who began the enrollment process but didn’t complete it.

Burton expects the 2016 enrollment total will equal the 2015 numbers by Jan. 31.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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