Many relying on health marketplace

WHEELING — A new federal report shows “a broad cross-section” of West Virginians and Ohioans rely on health insurance marketplace coverage.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report with detailed demographic, financial and geographic data on West Virginia and Ohio consumers who signed up for marketplace coverage as of Dec. 24. The report also finds that more than 11.5 million people nationwide were signed up for coverage by that date, an increase of 286,000 plan selections relative to the same period last year.

The latest enrollment figures show 32,855 people in West Virginia and 230,754 people in Ohio are signed up for 2017 marketplace coverage. The Ohio numbers are greater than at the same time last year, while West Virginia’s enrollment is similar to last year’s rate.

Open enrollment continues until Jan. 31.

During a conference call Tuesday, Aviva Aron-Dine, a senior counselor at HHS, said, “West Virginia’s signup numbers are similar to last year. Growth is a little lower than the national average. It is roughly flat.”

Aron-Dine said the Mountain State is seeing a larger increase in premiums than in past years, but West Virginia is one of the states where more people are protected by financial assistance in the form of tax credits. Medicaid expansion is helping people in West Virginia get treatment for opioid addiction, she said.

In Ohio, residents are experiencing “really significant improvements in access to care, particularly mental health care,” Aron-Dine said.

According to the report, marketplace consumers signed up through Dec. 24 include 18,218 female and 14,766 male West Virginians and 123,912 female and 106,187 male Ohioans.

The demographics in West Virginia show 2,066 children; 6,332 ages 18-34; 11,479 ages 35-54; and 13,107 older residents signed up. Covered in Ohio are 27,903 children; 51,848 ages 18-34; 71,439 ages 35-54 and 78,909 older residents.

Enrollees include 13,603 rural West Virginians and 51,869 rural Ohioans.

Marketplace data show 6,163 new and 26,821 returning consumers in West Virginia and 58,039 new and 172,060 returning consumers in Ohio.

Christen Linke Young, principal deputy director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said marketplace enrollment nationwide is “higher than it’s ever been.” She said growth has occurred this year “despite significant headwinds,” a reference to congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act that established the marketplace.

Young said tax credits are key drivers of the Affordable Care Act. She said 81 percent of those signed up, or 9.3 million people nationwide, qualify for tax credits.

With credits averaging $386 a month, these consumers receive an annual tax break of $4,600, Young said.

Nationally, enrollment is stable and on track for growth, Aron-Dine said.

“Even more encouraging, the marketplace is poised for continued success, absent interference,” she added.

Aron-Dine termed a significant premium increase for 2017 as “a one-time adjustment” designed “to bring premiums in line with cost.”

“Tax credits have done their jobs with protecting consumers in this one-time price correction year,” she said.