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Last day for health care law sign-ups

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

Today is the last day to start signing up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but the head of the only insurance company participating in the state’s exchange doesn’t expect a stampede of new sign-ups.

Nearly 15,000 state residents have signed up already, said Fred Earley, president of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“I think there will be some last-day folks, but I don’t think we’re going to be inundated,” Earley said.

“We’ve kind of maintained the same intensity, really.”

Earley was confident the company could handle any last-minute surge if there is one. Although today is officially the final day to sign up, President Barack Obama’s administration recently said people who have started signing up by today will have until mid-April to complete the process online.

The policies will take effect May 1.

Earley said his company isn’t planning anything special today to encourage more people to enroll, and there’s no last-minute push from the state, either.

Almost 70 percent of those who’ve enrolled have done so online, he said. He encouraged anyone still searching for coverage to start the process today.

Navigators and in-person “assisters” will still be available today, said Tonya Gillespie, a representative with the state Insurance Commission.

The state Bureau for Senior Services office in Charleston Town Center, which was scheduled to have its final informational session about enrollment Saturday, should also be open for sign-ups.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said his organization wasn’t planning a big event today. There are resources available if anyone still has questions, he said.

The enrollment website itself, www.healthcare.gov, has some information that could help address questions, and Bryant advised calling the federal health care hotline at 1-800-318-2596.

Those applying for Medicaid under the new expansion of eligibility criteria will likely not be affected by the Affordable Care Act deadline, said Jeremiah Samples, assistant to Secretary Karen Bowling of the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

There is a very small part of the population who could be eligible for Medicaid under the new standard and could still face the penalty for not having coverage if they do not enroll in Medicaid, he said.

“We encourage folks to get a sense of what they’re eligible for,” Samples said.

“Ultimately it’s their personal decision on whether they want to get coverage or not.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced in June the state would increase eligibility for Medicaid from those earning 35 percent or less of the Federal Poverty Line to 138 percent.

More than 100,000 people have enrolled in Medicaid under the expansion as of mid-March, Samples said, and the state is expecting a new report today that shows more people have signed up.

Before the expansion the state anticipated 130,000 to 140,000 people would be eligible.

“We’re at about 77 percent of that total already. So we’ve been quite successful,” Samples said.

The enrollment number is a little low because of an information exchange issue with the federal government, Samples said. Another 10,000 people could be added as soon as the federal site is officially able to recognize they’ve applied, he said.

Bryant, noting the same issue, added those interested in learning more about Medicaid eligibility should visit www.wvinroads.org.

Enrollment in the state-based exchange has lagged. As of the end of February, 14,980 people had enrolled, Gillespie said. At the time that was about 25 percent below expectations. Although enrollment numbers had been sluggish nationally, the Obama administration announced last week it met revised goals with more than 6 million people signed up.

Gillespie and Earley said a more accurate enrollment total won’t be available until mid-April.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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