WASHINGTON — With only a month left to sign up for online-marketplace health insurance this year, the Obama administration and support groups are ramping up their outreach efforts as the Feb. 15 deadline nears.
Federal officials expect fewer than 10 million people to enroll in coverage on the state and federal marketplaces this year. That’s far below the 13 million the Congressional Budget Office had projected.
New figures released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services show nearly 6.8 million people have either selected a health plan or re-enrolled into coverage in the 37 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov website.
Florida leads those states, with nearly 1.2 million people having selected plans. More than 859,000 have done so in Texas, HHS reported.
Among the 13 states that operate their own marketplaces, Kentucky has enrolled 12,500 new plan members into coverage, while 75,000 have renewed their coverage, said Carrie Banahan, executive director of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange.
With 35,000 new coverage applications already submitted, “We, like many of the other states, are expecting a very large (enrollment) spike leading into Feb. 15,” Banahan said Tuesday during a telephone briefing with marketplace officials conducted by Families USA, a liberal health advocacy group.
California, which also runs its own marketplace, reported 217,000 plan selections as of Tuesday.
“This is strong enrollment and, we think, puts us on the path for meeting our goal of enrolling 500,000 new people,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s online insurance marketplace.
The open enrollment period began Nov. 15. If consumers enroll in insurance plans by the Feb. 15 deadline, their health coverage could begin as early as March 1. Coverage for consumers who enroll by Jan. 15 will begin Feb. 1.
Under terms of the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate,” most Americans who didn’t have health coverage in 2014 will either pay a penalty of 1 percent of their annual household income or $95 per person and $47.50 per child.
These penalties will be assessed in the coming months when people file their 2014 income tax returns. Those who had marketplace coverage last year will soon get a new federal income tax form – 1095-A – that must be filed with their 2014 tax returns.
Those without insurance in 2015 will pay either 2 percent of annual household income or $325 per person and $162.50 per child under age 18 when they file their income taxes next year.
Lee said California officials would stress the importance of securing coverage to avoid these tax penalties.
“We’re in a tax season. We think this message is important. We also don’t want consumers to be surprised,” Lee said during the Families USA phone briefing.
Federal outreach efforts will focus on Hispanics as the enrollment period draws to a close. On Tuesday, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell declared this week a “Latino week of action.”
Some 2.6 million Latinos have gained health insurance since October 2013, leading to a 7.7 percent drop in the Hispanic uninsured rate, Burwell said Tuesday in a separate telephone briefing sponsored by Enroll America, a national Affordable Care Act support group.
“As one of the fastest-growing communities in our nation, Latinos’ health is vital to the overall well-being of our country,” Burwell said.
Last year, HHS spent about 10 percent of its outreach budget on efforts to reach Hispanics. This year, it’ll be about 33 percent, Burwell said.
Enrollment volunteers have to work “harder and smarter” to enroll Latinos into coverage because their language and cultural differences can present unique barriers, according to Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that helps people obtain health care.
“Recognizing this, we have made every effort to double down on the most effective tactics to reach the Latino community,” she said.
This includes providing more enrollment assistance from language-sensitive, culturally competent people, holding more Twitter chats and hosting more than 600 enrollment events nationally with bilingual volunteers.
“While we’ve been engaging Latinos from day one of the open enrollment period, we will be kicking it into overdrive during the next few weeks leading up to Feb. 15,” Filipic said.