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ACA enrollment numbers grow as deadline approaches

Jamie Martines
| Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, 3:51 p.m.

Time is running out for health insurance shoppers to sign up for health care through the federal health insurance marketplace,

The 45-day open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act enrollees ends Friday. Last year, enrollees had three months to select or renew coverage.

“It seems as if people are being much more proactive this year and getting things taken care of in advance,” said Leslie Bachurski, director of navigation at the Consumer Health Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that assists consumers with selecting and signing up for health care plans, among other health literacy services.

The coalition is one of several organizations throughout the state that have certified “navigators” on staff, individuals who were trained to help consumers navigate the enrollment process.

Bachurski said they've worked with community partners to get the word out and make sure people are aware that the enrollment period was shorter this year.

“We typically see a rush at the end of any deadline cycle,” Bachurski said, adding that she doesn't expect to see too big of a boost as this week comes to a close because they've had so many people come in already.

Other organizations serving the Greater Pittsburgh area agreed.

“People did not seem to have confusion or issues around the change in the deadline for the ACA this year,” said Wendy Allman, Women's Resource Center director at YWCA in Pittsburgh, crediting navigators with working to get the word out about shorter deadlines. “That has not seemed to have been an issue for some people.”

The YWCA, which also has navigators on staff, is a little bit ahead of its target goal for enrollees, Allman said. The organization has enrolled 73 people since the beginning of the enrollment period on Nov. 1, she said.

Week 5 figures released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which tracks the number of plan selections in the 39 states using the platform, show that 3,604,440 consumers nationwide have selected plans between Nov. 1 and Dec. 2. Of that number, about 2.6 million consumers were renewing existing coverage.

In Pennsylvania, 161,388 consumers signed up for plans during that time frame.

Those numbers continued to grow during Week 6. In Pennsylvania, total enrollees rose to 205,909, while the nationwide total hit 4,678,361 by Dec. 9.

Observations about the enrollment process made by local organizations hold statewide, said Tia Whitaker, statewide director for outreach and enrollment at the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers.

“It's really been a lot of grass-roots advocacy,” Whitaker said of efforts to get the word out about enrollment deadlines and enrollment assistance in light of cuts to federal funding that would have paid for advertising.

While some people may not have had trouble meeting the enrollment deadlines, that doesn't mean they didn't have questions about how to choose a plan, what changed about their health care since last year or whether they were eligible for financial assistance, Whitaker and others said.

Individuals who need help signing up can access resources like the Consumer's Checkbook, which provides step-by-step instructions for selecting a plan, through the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. The website also provides information about connecting with local organizations that have navigators on staff, said David Buono, consumer liaison with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.

“Folks need help just navigating through the system and needing help figuring out what they should be doing,” Buono said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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