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New Jersey ACA enrollment improving as March 31 deadline approaches

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The Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov had a rocky launch on Oct. 1, but the situation has improved as the March 31 deadline approaches for New Jerseyans to enroll and get the federal subsidies that will help them afford health insurance.

Raymond Castro, senior policy analyst at the Trenton think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said “aside from many technical problems in the application process the results so far are overall very positive. Our experience so far has shown that there is a tremendous demand and need for comprehensive quality insurance which is offered in the marketplace. We also now know that the marketplace is meeting its primary goal of reducing the uninsurance rate.”

Castro said NJPP and the Rutgers Center on State Health Policy developed monthly goals for New Jersey based on prior research. Their estimates show that it will take about three years to reach full enrollment. Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy said as of March 11, the government has reported that 74,370 New Jerseyans had signed up on healthcare.gov, while the state’s Medicaid enrollment is up by 86,000.

The federal marketplace website healthcare.gov is expecting a last-minute surge of applications. Castro said it is unclear if the goal of 113,000 signups on the marketplace will be reached by the end of March, but New Jersey is already above its targeted Medicaid enrollment which is being expanded by the ACA. There is no deadline to enroll in Medicaid or its sister program, New Jersey Family Care.

Castro said even if the state doesn’t meet its goal for marketplace enrollment in March, it is still possible it could meet its annual goal of 126,000.  That is because individuals whose old insurance plans were canceled because they don’t comply with the ACA can go to healthcare.gov and buy a policy after the March 31 deadline.

“In New Jersey we have 150,000 people who will lose their current insurance but most of them will not lose it until after March. In addition, the federal government recently ruled that individuals who have applied for assistance in the marketplace but were unable to have the application completed through no fault of their own can also apply after March,” he said.

Looking ahead, 2015 should be a better year for the marketplace, Castro said.

“All of the technical glitches should have been resolved by then. Also the penalty will increase significantly for individuals who have not obtained health insurance so that is expected to also increase the enrollment rate,” he said.

Castro cited two outstanding challenges: the percentage of young people signing up for health insurance low at 23 percent—while young adults comprise about 38 percent of uninsured New Jerseyans.

Enrolling uninsured Latinos has emerged as a challenge, Castro said, citing polls that show Latinos are ambivalent toward the marketplace.

“More resources for outreach to overcome these barriers is needed,” he said.

Finally, Castro said the state should do more to control health costs.

“The Affordable Care Act provides tools to the states to reduce those costs but it is up to the state and providers to use those tools and establish appropriate policies,” he said.

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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