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Pennsylvania

Affordable Care Act signups on pace with previous years despite changes

Wes Venteicher
| Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, 12:36 p.m.
Signups for Affordable Care Act health plans in Pennsylvania are on pace with previous years' open enrollment periods, according to federal data released Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.
Tribune-Review
Signups for Affordable Care Act health plans in Pennsylvania are on pace with previous years' open enrollment periods, according to federal data released Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.

Pennsylvanians are signing up for health plans on the Affordable Care Act's marketplace at a similar clip to previous years despite changes and uncertainty in the market, according to federal data released Wednesday.

About 101,000 Pennsylvanians bought or renewed plans from Nov. 1 through 18, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data. In 2016 and 2015, about 102,000 people signed up each November, according to CMS data.

The open enrollment period during which people may buy the individual health plans runs through Dec. 15, making it half as long as last year's open enrollment.

The numbers show people are buying plans despite premium increases, Sunday-morning website outages and a last-minute change from the Trump administration in how the government pays insurers for the plans.

The government is no longer paying insurers to cover costs of providing certain benefits for policyholders with the lowest incomes, such as lower deductibles and smaller doctor bills.

Most people who receive federal help paying monthly premiums will notice little change, and some will even pay less in premiums than they would have without the change.

“This year, consumers who receive tax credit subsidies may find that gold or bronze plans offer a better value, as premiums were increased on the silver level plans to compensate for the Trump administration's ending of cost sharing reduction payments to help lower income consumers pay deductibles and co-pays,” Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokesman Ron Ruman wrote in an email. “This means subsidies also rise, and the higher subsidies are available on all the plans.”

But approximately 85,000 Pennsylvanians who make too much money to qualify for federal premium subsidies will face price hikes averaging 30 percent.

Insurers have designed a set of alternative health plans to keep cost increases in check for those people, who buy so-called “off-exchange” plans directly from insurers. Pennsylvania shoppers can compare both on-exchange and off-exchange plans and find out what subsidies they might qualify for using Consumers' Checkbook ( pa.checkbookhealth.org ).

Nonprofits in the state that receive federal grants to help people sign up for health insurance are on track to meet or exceed enrollment goals, according to federal data.

Pittsburgh-based Consumer Health Coalition has signed up 980 people, already approaching a goal of 1,085 people by next year. The Young Women's Christian Association of Pittsburgh has signed up 95 people, exceeding a goal of 85. The Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers, which includes Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, has signed up 1,091 people out of a goal of 1,520.

The organizations together received about $1.4 million in federal grants for the year.

Pennsylvania nonprofits were not hit as hard as many states by cuts to the enrollment grants.

About 363,000 Pennsylvanians had marketplace plans after the close of last year's open enrollment period, according to CMS data.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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