Insurance exchanges tick up in November

Georgians able to complete their applications on the Health Insurance Marketplace increased by 15 percent in November over the troubled first month of October — but the totals still amounted to very few in the first month vs. not very many in the second.

And in its monthly release of data on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, the federal government on Wednesday did not specify how many new policies have actually been paid for by consumers and issued by insurers.

Instead, its metrics include number of completed applications and number of individuals who selected plans. About 32,800 people in Georgia made it through the application process in November, up from about 28,600 in October, the government said. The numbers of people who selected a plan increased almost threefold in November, according to the data.

“I don’t think there is any question that the flawed launch of the website put a damper on people’s enthusiasm,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee on Wednesday. “Having said that, we are seeing very, very positive trends. We are seeing lots of people re-engage.”

The federally run website, a technical disaster when it rolled out Oct. 1, ran more smoothly in November, although many of the key fixes weren’t in place until late in the month. The improvements will draw more people to the site in December, officials said, and the approach of a key deadline is also expected to spike traffic this month. Applicants must sign up by Dec. 23 for their new insurance plans to take effect Jan. 1. (The enrollment period continues through March.)

Nationwide the numbers reported Wednesday fell far short of what the Obama administration had projected for the end of November. Nearly 365,000 people had signed up for coverage on — nowhere near the 1.2 million officials had originally forecast.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Insurance Department issued a different set of numbers Wednesday: people in the state who have submitted all the paperwork necessary to begin coverage Jan. 1. The total was just 536 in October but jumped by more than 4,500 in November, the department said.

Monthly premium: $3.37

Some who have returned to the newly renovated site still had problems navigating it. But many finally got through the process, and some of them received very good news.

At 62, Ophelia Lee of Atlanta qualifies for Social Security but is still three years away from Medicare.

The retired accountant, who is uninsured, suffers from arthritis that makes it difficult just to stand up some days. She also worries about her diabetes and the numbness in her feet. Lee pays $65 to see a primary care doctor at her local clinic, but says she can’t afford the $85 it costs to see a specialist.

That will all change Jan. 1, when the new insurance she bought on kicks in.

Lee recently signed up for a silver-tier plan with Humana, which includes medical and dental coverage. It will cost her $3.37 each month in premiums after her tax credit is factored in.

She has already set up appointments with an ophthalmologist, a podiatrist and a dentist next month and hopes she’ll finally be able to have the knee replacements her doctor has long told her she needs.

“I’m just so glad the law was passed. … I’ve seen people out here struggle worse than me,” Lee said. “Now, we can take care of ourselves and live to be 65.”

‘A thorough review’

Sebelius took her customary lumps at Wednesday’s hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Far too many Americans who were happy and satisfied with their health coverage have had their worlds turned upside down as we approach Jan. 1, 2014,” committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said.

Even some Democratic lawmakers weren’t convinced the turnaround is complete.

“How confident I am? I’m hoping that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. “And if we find the day has come and we find that it’s not what we had hoped, then I think there should be changes.” The law should be fixed, not repealed, he said.

Earlier Wednesday Sebelius said she had ordered an internal investigation of the rollout of

“We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website,” she said.

To put the best face on its report on Wednesday, HHS combined its totals for October and November rather than just reporting the November data.

The report said that state-based exchanges often outperformed the federally run exchange again in November, with California’s leading the way, but the state operations were not trouble-free. Oregon’s exchange only had 44 people who had completed their applications and chosen a plan.