About 7,000 Oklahomans complete ACA applications (Tulsa World)

By Ziva Branstetter

Nearly 7,000 people in Oklahoma have completed applications for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, though only a fraction have chosen an insurance plan, according to data released by the federal government Wednesday.

Nationally, more than 975,000 people have completed applications and have been deemed eligible but have not yet selected a plan, the release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services states. The release states that 106,195 people have selected plans in the marketplace nationally.

The data cover all states, including those operating their own insurance exchanges, for the period Oct. 1-Nov. 2.

Out of the 36 states in the federally operated website called an exchange, or health-insurance marketplace, Oklahoma ranked near the bottom — 31st — in the per capita number of people applying for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a Tulsa World analysis shows. Florida ranked No. 1, while North Dakota ranked last.

“Even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplace is working, and people are enrolling,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “We can reasonably expect that these numbers will grow substantially over the next few months.”

Sebelius and the administration are under fire from Congress and the public due to the troubled rollout of the law.

In Oklahoma, 6,905 people have completed the application process. Because some applications involve couples and families, the number of Oklahoma individuals deemed eligible for insurance coverage under the law is higher: 9,952, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

A surprisingly low number of people qualified for subsidies to purchase insurance — about 1,400 people, or 15 percent of those deemed eligible to buy coverage in the exchange.

And of those who applied from Oklahoma, just 346, or 5 percent, have actually chosen an insurance plan. Some who applied were deemed eligible, instead, for Medicaid or their applications are pending while officials determine eligibility, but most have just not chosen a plan.

Sebelius said the finding that only a small portion of applicants have chosen plans mirrors the pattern in Massachusetts, which has operated a similar health-care program since 2006. She said many consumers who have applied but not chosen a plan are reviewing their options among several plans.

For coverage to begin Jan. 1 under the Affordable Care Act, people who apply must select a plan and pay the premium by Dec. 15.

“We know that some people may enroll in a plan temporarily and then decide to switch plans when they find out more information. By the 15th of December we will actually be able to tell you how many people have paid for coverage,” Sebelius said.

She has been grilled twice by congressional committees over widespread problems with the federal health-care law. The website where people can compare plans and buy coverage has been plagued with problems, frequently stalling consumers in the middle of the process and preventing many from even creating accounts.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday that the “error rate” on the website is now down to less than 1 percent and that the agency is on track to keep its promise to fix the site by Nov. 30.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a critical press release Wednesday, focusing on the low number of Oklahomans who have selected plans.

“It is embarrassing that the Obama Administration cannot produce a functional website, especially when so many individuals are relying on that site to purchase health insurance for themselves or their families,” Fallin’s release said.

Fallin has opposed the health insurance program at nearly every turn, returning a $54 million federal grant that would have paid for the state to create a state-based exchange, or website.

She also rejected a Medicaid expansion that accompanied the law. Fallin’s decision leaves about 150,000 people in a gap — too poor to qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act yet not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid coverage in Oklahoma.

Of those who have applied for the Affordable Care Act plans in Oklahoma, about 2,400 were eligible for Medicaid, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported.

Fallin’s release slammed the administration for its promise that Americans who like their current health insurance plans can keep them.

“Virtually everything this White House has told the American people about Obamacare has proven to be false. The president said the law would lower the cost of health insurance, but we know that state employees in Oklahoma are seeing their premiums rise by as much as 12 percent. He said if you liked your health insurance plan you could keep it. We now know for millions of Americans that has proven to be untrue.”

President Barack Obama has apologized for his apparent failure to keep his promise that Americans who like their health insurance plans can keep them under the new law. Thousands of Americans have received cancellation notices from insurance companies because their plans do not comply with the law’s coverage requirements.

Most Oklahomans who buy health insurance in the individual market are not receiving the cancellation notices that have frightened residents in other states because the state approved an early renewal date for insurers, state officials have said.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department approved a Dec. 1 renewal date for insurers who carry large numbers of individual health insurance plans. Those policies will be good until Nov. 30, 2014, avoiding for almost a year the Affordable Care Act requirements that have caused companies in other states to cancel existing policies.

About 2.5 percent of the state’s residents buy health insurance in the individual market, the department has said.

Nationwide, about 14 million Americans buy health insurance through the individual market instead of receiving it through their employer or a government program.

The law requires policies sold in the individual market to cover 10 essential health benefits, including prescription drugs, mental health treatment and maternity care. Insurers cannot reject people with medical problems or charge them higher prices.

Policies sold Jan. 1 and after must also limit consumers’ annual expenses to a lower level than many existing plans do. The law “grandfathered” plans that did not comply with the requirements in 2010, but new plans issued since then appear to be the problem.

A Blue Cross Blue Shield filing estimates that of 624,000 people lacking health insurance in Oklahoma, about 224,000 will purchase coverage through the federal exchange. That estimate, however, was made before the troubled launch of the federal website.

David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said he wasn’t surprised that the number of people who applied for coverage under the law appeared to be low relative to the number of the state’s uninsured.

“There’s no question that both the problems with the launch and then all the people who went and couldn’t get through the process and all the publicity has created some serious obstacles,” he said.

“If things are improving as it appears, we’re hoping more people will go back to the healthcare.gov website … and will be able to get the insurance they need.”

The law contains an “individual mandate” requiring people to have health insurance or pay a fine unless they fall into an excluded category. Federal officials have said people will be in compliance with the law if they purchase health insurance on or before March 31.

People may have insurance through their employer or have coverage through programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, tribal health care or a military plan in order to comply with the mandate.

World Staff Writer Curtis Killman contributed to this story.



Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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