Exchange enrollment shows strong Atlanta area numbers

Georgia’s exchange sign-ups have nearly equaled last year’s open enrollment total, with the deadline more than a week away.

Federal health officials reported that as of Jan. 16, 535,918 Georgians have signed up for health insurance through the exchange or were automatically renewed for coverage in 2016.

A year ago, the final figure after open enrollment ended was 536,929.

The Affordable Care Act provides for exchanges in all 50 states, and this is their third year of operation. Health and Human Services officials Wednesday also broke down the sign-ups by metro media market areas:

** 405,103 consumers in the Atlanta media market area selected or were automatically enrolled in a plan

** 15,452 consumers in the Albany area

** 30,659 consumers in the Augusta area

** 18,992 consumers in the Columbus area

** 21,651 consumers in the Macon area

** 44,633 consumers in the Savannah area

(Note: Media market numbers sometimes go across state lines.)

Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said Georgia would have had stronger growth this year if health plan premiums had held steady. But as in other states, there were rate increases, which averaged 6 percent statewide.

Custer linked the heavy traffic in the Atlanta area to its “having more choices and lower premiums than the rest of the state.”

Those premium hikes reflect higher health care costs in general, he said.

The health insurance exchange, Custer added, “is a huge change for everybody, and there’s a lot of growing pains.’’ This year, though, “consumers are getting more information on provider networks and quality,” he said.

The state’s enrollment total trails that of Florida, Texas and North Carolina among the 38 states using the federally run exchange.

“As expected, consumer interest is beginning to increase again as we near the deadline for 2016 coverage,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

Open enrollment for 2016 coverage runs through Jan. 31.

Consumers face a higher penalty for not enrolling in coverage.

This year, the penalty is $695 per adult and $347 per child up to a family cap of $2,500 or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. Last year’s penalty was $325 for adults, with a $975 maximum or 2 percent of household income.

Dante McKay, state director of Enroll America, said Thursday that enrollment is trending up again in the final few days.  Increased awareness about the ACA generally and the heavier fine are generating interest in enrollment, he said.

 

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