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This March 1, 2014, photo shows part of the website for HealthCare.gov as photographed in Washington. Sick of hearing about the health care law? Plenty of people have tuned out after all the political jabber and website woes. Now is the time to tune back in, before it’s too late. The big deadline is coming March 31. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Utahns: Sign up for health coverage now, before it’s too late
Obamacare’s exchange » Insurers, brokers make last-minute push to boost enrollment.
First Published Mar 19 2014 01:37 pm • Last Updated Mar 19 2014 10:44 pm

It’s another day and another enrollment fair for Arches Health Plan, which has crisscrossed Utah imploring the uninsured to get covered for the past six months, since the Oct. 1 opening of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace.

Nearly 40,000 Utahns have found health plans on www.HealthCare.Gov — 86 percent receiving a subsidy to help cover the costs.

At a glance

Need help enrolling?

There are several options for those who need help shopping the Affordable Care Act’s online health exchange:

Go to http://www.takecareutah.org or call 211 to find the nearest trained navigator.

Find a certified insurance broker near you at bit.ly/brokerfind.

Click on the online chat at healthcare.gov.

Call the toll-free call center at 1-800-318-2596.

Calculate your subsidy

The new online marketplace at healthcare.gov was designed to allow shoppers to find out whether they qualify for subsidies, receive them and apply them toward the cost of premiums.

Americans who qualify for subsidies earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. In that window, individuals earn between about $11,000 and $44,000, and a family of four has an income between $33,000 and $92,000.

Those having trouble using the site can get an estimate using an online calculator from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation here: http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/.

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But with just 13 days until the March 31 enrollment deadline, thousands more remain eligible.

Miss the sign-up window and you could pay a 2014 tax penalty, Arches consumer engagement vice president Judi Hilman warned attendees at a fair held Tuesday.

"At the end of the day, everybody can choose the plan that is right for them," she said, "but you need to pick one and we’re one of the choices."

The health law’s requirement to have insurance should, by now, be no surprise to Utahns.

Insurance companies, brokers and federal navigators have sponsored freeway billboards, launched humorous social media campaigns, hosted informational "town hall" events on college campuses and underserved areas of the state and distributed fliers at sporting events.

The focus now is on getting people signed up, which involves hand-holding and one-on-one technical assistance, said Jason Stevenson, a spokesman for TakeCareUtah.org, an umbrella group of federally certified insurance navigators.

"Almost around the clock we have people coming into our office," he said. "Our navigators basically run out for lunch and run back, and just sit at their desks helping people with their questions."

The marketplace got off to a rocky start, which hurt early enrollment. But Stevenson believes the Obama administration’s 2014 enrollment goal for Utah of 57,000 is within reach.

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Contrary to doubts spread by critics of the health law, the vast majority of new enrollees have paid their first month’s premiums.

Hilman said about 90 percent of Arches’ 14,000 consumers are paid up.

Intermountain Healthcare’s insurance arm, SelectHealth, the state’s largest insurer, reports having billed and banked premiums for 18,000 Utahns choosing exchange plans.

But confusion still reigns when it comes to the finer points of the president’s signature health law.

A national survey by McKinsey & Co. shows a majority of Americans who haven’t enrolled haven’t done so because they believe insurance would be too expensive. Yet 80 percent of those who cited affordability as a problem are eligible for subsidies.

"Many young people and those previously uninsured are finding out that, with a tax credit, health insurance is a reality," said Scott Schneider, vice president of sales at SelectHealth. "Many people simply did not feel they could afford health insurance until now."

Pricing surveys show Utah benefits from some of the nation’s cheapest exchange plans.

Six major insurance companies are offering up to 96 plans. Every county has at least four insurers and 40 plans to choose from, according to TakeCareUtah.org.

And four out of five consumers qualify for tax credits toward their purchase.

A family of three in Utah County earning $44,000 a year, for example, could receive a monthly subsidy of $202, reducing the amount the family would pay for an average silver-level plan to $263 a month, the organization says.

But as with other parts of the country, many of Utah’s exchange plans have narrow doctor networks, and insurance regulators advise consumers to shop smartly.

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Sign-ups so far

39,902 Utahns have selected a plan on www.HealthCare.Gov.

86 percent received a subsidy to cover the costs.

31 percent of Utah’s enrollees are between ages 18 and 34, placing Utah first in the nation for drawing the young and healthy, who are highly sought after to balance risk and keep rates affordable.

Source: 2014 state-level enrollment report, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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