- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Nearly 69,000 Michigan residents chose a private health insurance plan from a government website during December, a 10-fold increase over the first two months of enrollment under the federal health care law.

Numbers released Monday by President Barack Obama’s administration don’t indicate how many of the roughly 75,000 people who enrolled from October through Dec. 28 have paid their first monthly premium to ensure coverage effective Jan. 1. Eighty-four percent of those picking a plan qualified for tax credits to offset a portion of their premium, a higher proportion than 79 percent nationwide.

The federal website, which was plagued by problems during its rollout but has since improved, allows consumers to compare and buy insurance. It’s a key element of the health law along with an expansion of Medicaid to more low-income adults, which begins April 1 in Michigan.

The number who have enrolled, 75,511, is in line with what the Obama administration projected, said Marianne Udow-Phillips, director of the Center for Health Care Research & Transformation at the University of Michigan.

“Obviously the website got significantly better. The health plans did a lot to reach out to people in December,” she said. “People really did want coverage Jan. 1, and a lot of people waited until the last minute.”

Nearly 212,000 Michigan residents registered on the website, called a health care exchange, over three months - with many still waiting to buy a plan. Of those, 185,000 people were deemed eligible for plans offered through the exchange, including 101,000 eligible for subsidies.

Separately, 22,000 were ruled eligible for health care through Medicaid or MIChild, government insurance programs.

The administration was unable to say how of many of those enrolling for coverage previously were uninsured. Some might have been among the 225,000 Michigan residents whose previous policies were at risk of being canceled because they didn’t meet the law’s standards.

Udow-Phillips said more people, 7 in 10, picked a mid-range “silver” plan than she expected. Slightly more than 1 in 10 went with a bronze plan, which generally have the lowest premiums but include higher deductibles and co-pays.

“More people are going to have coverage pretty comparable to what an employer offers,” she said. “They’re willing to pay higher premiums to reduce that point-of-service cost.”

Young adults represented 25 percent of enrollment in Michigan, similar to the national rate. Open enrollment ends March 31, and Udow-Phillips said she expects many young people to wait until the last minute.

“In the end it may skew older, but we don’t know that yet,” she said.

In releasing the data, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said outreach efforts have ramped up and the Obama administration is “doing all we can to find, inform and enroll those who can benefit from the marketplace.”

Those working to sign people up in Michigan said the figures track what they’re hearing on the ground.

“The rapid growth in the number of enrollments is a very positive sign, but there is still more work to be done,” said Erin Knott, state director of Get Covered America, who added that the nonprofit has hired five more staffers in Michigan because many consumers don’t know they can qualify for a government-subsidized plan.

Michigan is among 36 states using the federal government’s site.


Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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