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W.Va. Obamacare enrollment: 1,237

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While there's more work to be done on Healthcare.gov, the head of the only company offering insurance plans on West Virginia's Health Insurance Marketplace said he's encouraged by new enrollment figures.

As of Monday, 1,237 West Virginians had enrolled in plans on the federal exchange, according to new information from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

That's more than six times the number of people who had enrolled Nov. 13, when only 198 people were signed up, according to Highmark.

"[Twelve hundred] is not nearly enough, but we're encouraged, given the up-tick in the last week since the fix," Fred Earley, president of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia, said Tuesday. "A lot more people are getting through."

Highmark is the largest health insurance company in the state and the lone agency offering plans on the exchange.

A large portion of the new enrollees signed up after Nov. 30, when the federal government added enhancements to the website, Earley said.

The federal website has been plagued with technical difficulties and low enrollment numbers since the start of open enrollment Oct. 1. DHHS officials said most of the bugs in the site have been fixed. Ninety percent of users are now able to create accounts on the site, according to a statement released Nov. 30 by the federal government.

Highmark officials said Tuesday that more work needs to be done.

The website is still having problems on the back end, including information that doesn't get properly transmitted to Highmark, Earley said. He added that the website still needs work.

Earley encouraged residents to look at the website to determine how much they would have to pay for an insurance plan. They might be pleasantly surprised, he said. Those who tried to enroll early might be surprised at how well the site is working now, too, he said. Residents who want to have coverage beginning Jan. 1 should sign up by Dec. 23, according to the company.

"People who may have been discouraged early on need to go out and try again, because I think they'll be much more successful," he said.

Because of the technical problems, Highmark might have problems getting enough young and healthy people signed up in the marketplace, said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Care. The older, sicker people are more likely to keep trying to enroll on the exchange because they're desperate to get health insurance, Bryant said. That could lead to higher costs for those who are enrolled.

"Adverse selection is a real concern," Bryant said. "If you only end up . . . with older, less healthy people, it doesn't work. You need a combination. Hopefully, this website, Healthcare.gov, will continue to improve and people will have a better experience and will get enrolled."

While more than 1,200 have enrolled in a health insurance plan, many more in West Virginia have enrolled in Medicaid. About 75,000 state residents have signed up for the expanded Medicaid program, Commissioner Nancy Adkins said Tuesday. That number does not include people who might have signed up for Medicaid on the federal website or those children who will transfer to Medicaid from the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Of those enrolled, 62,376 had enrolled through auto-enrollment letters sent from the state Department of Health and Human Resources and 12,605 had enrolled via the state Medicaid enrollment website -- for a total of 74,981, according to a DHHR spokeswoman.

Bryant said much of the credit for the successful Medicaid enrollment is due to DHHR employees who made follow-up calls to those SNAP recipients and others who got auto-enrollment letters from the department, Bryant said. The DHHR sent 118,000 letters to those enrolled in the food assistance program and to the parents of children who are on Medicaid.

Bryant said he's almost positive West Virginia is a leader in the nation for enrollment in expanded Medicaid.

"It's really impressive," Bryant said. "It's really, really impressive. That's a lot of work, but it will pay huge dividends for a lot of low-income West Virginians."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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