Health plan exchange draws 110,000 new NC customers

About 110,000 North Carolinians bought new health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange during the first month of 2015 enrollment, according to numbers released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And almost 140,000 who already had plans re-enrolled by Dec. 15, the federal government reports. That doesn’t include people who let their 2014 policies automatically renew; those were processed in the days just after the cutoff for the report.

This time around, 92 percent of those who chose plans in North Carolina qualified for subsidized premiums; 91 percent qualified in 2014. The 2015 national average is 87 percent.

“It looks like we’re going to be a national leader again,” said Adam Linker, health policy analyst for the nonprofit N.C. Justice Center. He was referring to numbers and the high percentage qualifying for aid.

Dec. 15 was the deadline to sign up for coverage that kicks in Jan. 1, though the federal government offered a little extra time for those who had trouble getting through to the help line as the deadline neared.

Enrollment remains open through Feb. 15, with coverage starting in February for plans purchased by Jan. 15 and in March if they’re selected later.

The ACA marketplace provides tax credits to help cover the cost of premiums for low- to moderate-income people who qualify. In the lower income range, people may also qualify for aid to reduce out-of-pocket costs.

In 2014, when the exchange debuted, almost 357,600 in North Carolina bought plans. It’s unclear how many of them remained covered at year’s end. People can lose subsidized coverage for a number of reasons, from failure to pay premiums to getting a job that provides health insurance. And others have signed up during the year, when changes in employment or family status made them eligible.

People whose income is too high for federal aid can still use the exchange to buy health insurance.

In North Carolina, those whose income falls below the federal poverty level ($11,670 for an individual, $23,850 for a household of four) can’t get help buying insurance. The federal plan called for states to expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults, but North Carolina and 22 other states have declined to do so, citing costs and questions about the value of expansion.