About 19,000 have paid first premium through Maryland health insurance exchange

About 19,000 Marylanders who signed up for a private health insurance plan through the state’s new online marketplace have paid their first premium, state health officials announced Friday.

Although the state announces its number of private plan enrollees each week, this is the first time officials have made public the number of enrollees who have actually paid for their insurance — the ultimate sign of commitment and one closely watched by insurance companies.

Maryland Health Benefit Exchange officials believe that their rate-of-premium-payment is “similar to other areas” in the country, and they noted that not all enrollees have hit a due date. The exchange opened on Oct. 1 and will close March 31, giving Marylanders just one more month to sign up for insurance for this year. The next open enrollment period will begin on Nov. 15.

The exchange has had numerous technical problems since it launched and many applications are being processed manually instead of through the Web site. These problems have confused, frustrated and hindered thousands of Marylanders in search of affordable health insurance. Exchange officials are now debating how best to fix or replace the malfunctioning system before the next enrollment period begins.

Originally, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and other state officials aimed to get at least 150,000 Marylanders signed up for a private plan during the first enrollment period. Earlier this week, state officials announced that their goal was based on faulty research and a better estimate is 75,000 to 100,000 people.

Either way, Maryland is far from enrolling as many people as it had hoped, with just a month left to go. As of Feb. 22, 35,636 Marylanders had enrolled in a private health plan through the exchange. In the coming month, exchange representatives host a series of enrollment fairs around the state to get more people signed up before the March 31 deadline.

The state has also added 167,338 people to Medicaid. Of those, 95,889 were automatically enrolled when the state expanded Medicaid and 71,449 enrolled through the exchange. Additionally, more than 90,000 Marylanders have been deemed eligible for Medicaid and many are likely to fully enroll.

Overall, Maryland has provided health-care coverage to 202,974 people through private plans or Medicaid. O’Malley hopes that total will reach 260,000 by the end of March.

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.

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