By Carla Anderson
March 31, 2014
According to the March 11 enrollment report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 140,000 Georgia residents selected a private health plan. Georgia ranks sixth among state’s using HealthCare.gov and eighth overall in the number of people who have selected health plans. Georgia is at 85 percent of the federal government’s target for signups through five months of the initial open enrollment period.
Of those Georgians selecting a private health plan, 10 percent selected a bronze plan (18 percent nationally), 66 percent selected a silver plan (63 percent nationally), 19 percent selected a gold plan (11 percent nationally), 3 percent selected a platinum plan (6 percent nationally) and 2 percent selected a catastrophic plan (1 percent nationally).Twenty-eight percent of enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34. Signups among that age group are considered vital to keeping insurance costs from jumping up in 2015 and beyond.
While Georgia is not expanding its Medicaid program, more than 62,000 people who visited the marketplace qualified for either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under existing eligibility criteria.
March 31 is the last day to apply for private health insurance coverage for 2014. However, federal officials announced that anyone who has started an application on HealthCare.gov but not completed it as of March 31 can have until April 15 to finish enrolling. The extension is available in Georgia and all other states using HealthCare.gov for enrollment. Consumers can qualify for the extension just by clicking a box on HealthCare.gov; no documentation is needed.
Enrollment for Medicaid or CHIP continues throughout the year.
Individuals who remain uninsured after March may face a tax penalty of $95 or one percent of income, whichever is greater.
Georgia is among the 26 states that opted to use the federal health insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov. State government officials such as Gov. Nathan Deal and Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens continue to speak out against the marketplace. In his 2014 State of the State address, Deal called the Affordable Care Act “anything but affordable.” Hudgens implemented a requirement that navigators, who help consumers use the marketplace, pass the test that insurance agents are required to take. That requirement is much more stringent than required by the health care reform law, and Hudgens openly stated it was intended as obstructionism. At the end of its 2014 session, the Georgia Assembly passed a bill that prohibits establishing a state-run marketplace, disallows the use of taxpayer money for navigator programs, and forbids government employees from advocating for Medicaid expansion.
Georgia is also among that states that rejected an expansion of the Medicaid program. While Deal has repeatedly said Medicaid expansion would cost the state too much, his administration did show some signs that it may reconsider. In particular, an advisor to Deal expressed interest in the “premium assistance” option, which uses Medicaid funding to enable low-income residents to purchase private insurance through the marketplace. The General Assembly responded by passing a bill that gives it authority over any changes to the state’s Medicaid rules. By not expanding Medicaid, the state is leaving up to 650,000 low-income residents in a coverage gap — unable to qualify for either Medicaid or subsidies through the marketplace.
Five insurers are selling individual policies through the federal marketplace in Georgia: Alliant, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and Peach State.
Residents of southern and southwestern Georgia face some of the highest premiums in the country. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation looked at the monthly premium for a 40-old purchasing the least expensive silver policy available in the region. In southwestern Georgia the monthly premium is $461, and in southern Georgia, it is $423. The Kaiser study cited several characteristics common among the high-cost areas of the country. In many cases, areas with high costs have a limited number of providers that don’t have to compete on price. In addition, high-cost areas often have more people in poorer health and fewer people who get health insurance through an employer.
According to HHS, about 1.7 million Georgia residents are uninsured.
State Exchange Profile: Georgia
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Georgia’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Let your Georgia governor and legislators know how you feel about the state’s proposed health insurance exchange.Georgia Governor Nathan Deal