County health insurance enrollment total up in air

It’s still early in the game to determine the number of Chautauqua County residents enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

As of Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported that 1.3 million New Yorkers had completed applications, while 960,762 had enrolled for coverage since the launch of the marketplace on Oct. 1, 2013.

“People enrolled on the exchange, and directly with insurers off of the exchange, along with third-party brokers,” said Peter Kates, director of communications for Univera Healthcare. “There are a number of ways to get in, which has made obtaining solid numbers difficult. Also, enrolling doesn’t mean the purchaser has paid yet. Everybody is working with the same numbers, but it’s kind of vague at this point.”

Kates, who oversees Western New York’s eight counties, said 734 individuals across Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegheny, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties had applied for health insurance through the marketplace with Univera as of March 31.

As for employers with 50 or fewer employees, 153 businesses reached out to Univera to purchase insurance through New York State of Health’s Small Business Marketplace.

“We don’t have any numbers broken down by county yet, but we’ve seen a reaction proportional to our size,” Kates said. “We’ve seen a pretty positive response, and the marketplace gives people more opportunities to get coverage outside of an employer, along with more price points and levels of coverage.”

Kates also said enrollees may qualify for subsidies in order to help them pay for health care.

Along with Univera, insurance through the Affordable Care Act can be purchased through Fidelis Care, Health Republic, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Independent Health. Health Republic, and Independent Health also provide insurance through the Small Business Marketplace.

The Small Business Marketplace is open to enrollment throughout the year, while small business owners and employees who sign up by April 30 will have coverage beginning June 1.

The next opportunity for most New Yorkers to sign up for individual coverage will be when the marketplace reopens on Nov. 15, 2014.

While enrollment on the exchange closed on March 31, a grace period allowed applications to be finalized by April 16. More than 70 percent of those who have enrolled to date were uninsured at the time of application. It is still unknown how many enrollees paid their premiums and will be insured.

“It’s still really early, and that’s why there are so many different numbers floating around,” Kates said.

The marketplace shows health plans available, benefits covered by the plans, doctors and facilities that participate in the plan network and the cost of enrolling. Enrollees can choose plans after determining eligible family members and whether to apply for Medicaid, Child Health Plus, or a plan offered through the marketplace.

As of January 2014, most people are required to have insurance if they didn’t already have it.

According to the marketplace website, those without insurance will have to pay a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service. Some individuals will not have to pay this penalty if they qualify for an exemption.

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