The number of Kansans who enrolled in the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplace exceed the federal government's expectations, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Thursday.
In all, 57,013 Kansans chose a plan on the marketplace, a major piece of the 2010 law often called Obamacare, from Oct. 1 through April 19. However, the government didn't have data on how many were previously uninsured or paid for their plans. HHS had originally predicted that 53,000 Kansans would select a plan during the open enrollment period.
"Clearly we have more people with insurance than today than we did before and we have people able to buy it who couldn't before because of preexisting conditions," Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said. "The whole goal is to improve health status by getting people preventive care and the appropriate care before it becomes a chronic condition."
She was also pleased that, even though it was a few percentage points below the target, 32 percent of Kansans aged 18-34 signed up for plans in the marketplace. Younger, healthier people are needed to keep the risk pool stable. However, Praeger acknowledged that even with the positive numbers, many Kansans continue to lack health insurance. "I hope our state eventually does Medicaid expansion because we're not going to close that gap until we do," she said.
While Kansas has elected not to participate in the law's Medicaid expansion, which would have increased eligibility to individuals and families up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, 13,691 Kansans were determined to be eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program through the exchange.
In Kansas, the majority of enrollees — 60 percent — chose the silver plan, which covers 70 percent of health care costs. Also, 79 percent of those who signed up received financial assistance.
Heartland Community Health Center, one of the places in Lawrence that had navigators trained to enroll people in the marketplace, helped more than 200 people sign up for plans, mostly in the final month of enrollment. Heartland, which serves both insured and uninsured patients, plans to continue offering marketplace assistance when the next signup period begins Nov. 15. The clinic expects that a federal grant that pays for those services will be renewed.
"Before open enrollment, this had never been done before and we had no idea what to expect … so we'll be a lot more prepared next time," said Ali Edwards, development director for Heartland. "The rollout of the health insurance marketplace was an interesting, tumultuous time. But as the numbers suggest, this is something people want."
One person who benefited from the law in Lawrence is Kathleen Beer, who is retired but not yet old enough to qualify for Medicare. She found about $2,000 in annual savings by purchasing insurance through the marketplace.
Beer bought a platinum plan, which covers 90 percent of health care costs, because she had some expensive medical procedures coming up. The Blue Cross Blue Shield plan also has no deductible and covers half of her medication costs.
"I'm really happy because I get to can keep my own doctor. He's in the network of contracted providers," Beer said. "I'm especially happy because for the first time I have a drug plan. … My costs had been running about $500 a month, and they're now about $250. And at age 63, I have quite a few medications."