When open enrollment closed Sunday, almost 341,000 Michigan residents had signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace — a 25 percent increase over last year.
Both the general Health Insurance Marketplace and the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state’s Medicaid expansion program, have experienced some level of success in the last year.
With the closure of the enrollment period last Sunday, President Barack Obama said 11.4 million people signed up for or renewed their coverage during the three month period.
Currently, 559,965 beneficiaries are covered under the Healthy Michigan Plan, which is designed to cover residents between the ages of 19 and 64 who have an income at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty line.
Carrie Rheingans is project manager for the Washtenaw Health Initiative, a countywide drive working to improve access to health care for low-income residents. She said the enrollment rates were surprisingly high.
“Overall, this number has really blown out of the water any estimates that anybody was making in the state,” Rheingans said.
Rheingans added that she is not aware of any major issues that have occurred within this year’s first enrollment period, but noted that Michigan residents seemingly learned from the previous period, and are becoming smarter shoppers.
In particular, Rheingans said many are concerned about which health insurance plans their doctors will accept, as patients generally want to stick with the doctor that they are currently with.
“Many patients who enrolled the first time, last year, who are re-enrolling this year have been coming in and asking more specific questions about enrollment this year,” she said.
Similar to last year, Rheingans said many people have waited until the last minute to apply for health insurance. She attributed the trend to those with lower incomes commonly working more than one job and helping take care of other family members. Those factors make it harder to find the time to go online and thoroughly consider the options.
Currently, Michigan is one of 27 states, along with the District of Columbia, that has chosen to expand Medicaid through the Healthy Michigan program. Rheingans said Michigan’s plan differs somewhat from those in other states. Unique provisions include asking beneficiaries to make contributions to the program, similar to traditional health insurance, such as copays. After four years, beneficiaries earning above 100 percent of the federal poverty line will be asked to make more contributions.
“I think some things that our state did in the development of the Healthy Michigan Plan that are different from other Medicaid programs in the country will make other states be more interested in possibly expanding Medicaid,” Rheingans said.
Student volunteers with the Washtenaw Health Initiative, like Public Health student Pauline Do, disseminated information about the ACA as well as the Healthy Michigan Plan across the community.
“Since Michigan just expanded its Medicaid program last year, most people, including students, do not realize that they qualify for Healthy Michigan, so that has been my main focus,” Do said. “Personally, I have only done one-to-one outreach, but I believe it is very successful.”
Unlike the general insurance exchange, Healthy Michigan does not have an enrollment deadline.
However, Do said individuals still may be able to enroll in the general marketplace beyond the initial February deadline, as long as they experienced a qualifying life event, such as a change in income or residence.
“The most rewarding thing about disseminating information about health care coverage is making this process a little bit easier for individuals, and seeing people enroll with the help of certified enrollment counselors on the same day,” Do said.