Nearly 28,000 signed up for HealthSource RI plans

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Nearly 28,000 Rhode Islanders signed up for private health insurance plans through the state’s new Obamacare marketplace before Monday night’s deadline to enroll, according to a preliminary count.

HealthSource RI spokeswoman Dara Chadwick said 27,968 individuals signed up for private plans through the new marketplace between Oct. 1 and the 11:59 p.m. deadline for 2014 enrollment, 1,840 of whom signed up Monday. The number is expected to rise as those who encountered technical difficulties or weren’t able to speak to a representative on Monday finish getting processed.

“It was definitely a big day,” she said, adding that there were also more than 600 walk-in visits Monday to HealthSource RI’s offices in Providence and Warwick.

Chadwick said she didn’t know yet how many of those individuals have paid their first premiums, the final step to enroll, noting they have until April 23 to do so and still have coverage take effect on May 1. As of March 8, HealthSource RI said about four out of five enrollees in private plans had paid their first premiums.

Those numbers only count those who’ve used HealthSource RI to buy private insurance from either Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island or Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.

Separately, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services told 56,531 individuals used HealthSource RI to sign up for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income individuals, from Oct. 1 to March 22. That’s far more than what state officials had forecast, which was for 28,000 Medicaid sign-ups by Sept. 30 and 51,000 by March 2015.

At this point, then, more than 84,000 Rhode Islanders have signed up for health insurance through the new Obamacare marketplace since it opened Oct. 1 when private and Medicaid enrollment are combined. Blue Cross was not immediately able to say how many others have signed up for coverage directly through its website, bypassing HealthSource RI.

As of March, nearly all of those who’d signed up for private insurance through HealthSource RI had chosen a Blue Cross plan.

The Washington-based consulting firm Avalere Health forecast last fall that 33,000 people would enroll in private insurance plans through HealthSource RI during the 2014 open enrollment period, though it lowered the estimate to 28,000 in February. The state has already far exceeded a federal forecast of 12,000 sign-ups made last year.

The Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to have health insurance or else pay a penalty starting this year. The Obama administration announced last week that 6 million people nationwide had signed up for private health insurance plans since the health law’s open enrollment began.

While the official deadline to sign up for private insurance for 2014 was 11:59 p.m. Monday, Chadwick estimated that 300 people who called HealthSource RI on Monday to enroll were unable to finish the process. She said HealthSource RI’s representatives will be calling them to get them signed up starting Tuesday.

“We want people to know that if they tried to enroll and were unable to get through the system, or they were on the line, they should be calling the contact center and let us know,” Chadwick said.

Individuals who experience a “qualifying life event” – such as getting married, having a child, or losing a job – can sign up for a private plan at other points during the year, Chadwick said. Individuals who are eligible for Medicaid can sign up at any time.

Christine Ferguson, HealthSource RI’s executive director, said Monday that one problem HealthSource RI will need to look at going forward is the cost of the insurance plans being offered by Blue Cross and Neighborhood. For a 29-year-old male who makes $46,000 a year, the cheapest Blue Cross plan carries a $186-a-month premium this year.

“We clearly have issues around having better plans offered, more affordable plans,” Ferguson told on Monday. “We’ve lost some people because even with the federal subsidies they can’t afford the premiums.”

HealthSource RI’s open enrollment for private insurance plans for 2015 will begin Nov. 15.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Susan Hogan contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this story, using information provided by HealthSource, incorrectly said 3,000 people were unable to finish enrolling Monday; the correct figure is 300.

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