- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

DOVER, Del. (AP) - State officials say figures provided by the federal government show that more Delawareans are selecting health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Sunday was the open enrollment deadline to sign up for exchange coverage this year.

Federal officials reported Thursday that more than 28,250 people selected plans on Delaware’s exchange, either by signing up or through automatic renewals.

State officials say that’s an increase of almost 13 percent over 2015.

Nationwide, federal officials said about 12.7 million people signed up for individual private insurance policies or renewed their coverage for 2016, about a million more than last year.

Nick Moriello, president of Health Insurance Associates, an independent brokerage agency in Newark, said Delaware insurers noticed many people signing up just ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline.

“We did see a big ramp-up in the final days,” Moriello said, adding that enrollment in the third year of the law has gone more smoothly than in the first two years.

Officials still don’t know, however, how many people who selected plans actually paid their first premiums and obtained coverage. Moriello said some consumers still don’t understand that they need to pay initial premiums to activate their coverage.

State Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf told the Delaware Health Care Commission on Thursday that as of late December, 22 percent of plan selections in Delaware involved new enrollees, and 78 percent were renewals. People aged 45 to 64 accounted for 49 percent of enrollees; the 18-34 age group accounted for 23 percent.

Officials have said that more than 80 percent of enrollees in Delaware qualify for premium subsidies in the form of tax credits.

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, which dominates individual market share in Delaware, was granted an average premium increase of 22.4 percent for individual plans. Aetna Health and Aetna Life Insurance Co. were approved for average increases of about 17 percent.

Those who failed to sign up for coverage last year and did not qualify for an exemption from the federal enrollment mandate face a penalty of 2 percent of annual household income, or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, whichever is greater, when they file their 2015 tax returns.

The penalty for not having coverage this year climbs to 2.5 percent of household income, or $695 per adult and $347.50 per child.

Meanwhile, insurance industry officials and regulators are warning that some people who go online in search of information or to enroll for health care coverage are mistakenly going to sites that offer alternative types of insurance that do not meet Affordable Care Act requirements and thus leave them without required coverage.

“These people think they’re buying Affordable Care Act coverage,” said Frank Pyle, market conduct manager with the Delaware Department of Insurance.

Pyle said regulators are targeting those companies, which appear to involve offshore call centers, and that at least one is facing a substantial fine.

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