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How the first year of HealthCare.gov is unfolding in N.J.

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    The federal health insurance marketplace website.
    The federal health insurance marketplace website. - (HealthCare.gov website)

    Three New Jersey insurers are selling health plans under the Affordable Care Act at HealthCare.gov, where through early March about 74,370 New Jerseyans signed up for coverage that in most cases includes federal subsidy dollars designed to make that coverage more affordable.

    Experts predict a surge of enrollment as the March 31 deadline to sign up approaches, but the insurers will continue throughout 2014 signing up customers as old, non-ACA compliant policies expire and are replaced by new plans that meet the Obamacare rules.

    The three insurers – Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, AmeriHealth NJ and Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey – gave NJBIZ an update on how the first year of HealthCare.gov is unfolding in New Jersey.

    Mike Munoz, senior vice president of sales and marketing for AmeriHealth NJ said "Overall, enrollment has exceeded our expectations."

    So far, he said, more than 68,140 individual consumers chose AmeriHealth NJ coverage for 2014, which includes enrollments received through April effective dates. About 80 percent used HealthCare.gov and 20 percent bought coverage directly via the AmeriHealth NJ website, ahnj4u.com through brokers or by phone at 1-888-879-5331.

    "The implementation of the Affordable Care Act was an unprecedented event for our entire industry," Munoz said. "Rolling out something of this magnitude did present its challenges along the way. Like many other insurers across the industry, we continue to address operational issues and have processes in place to ensure the next open enrollment period is even more seamless for our members. Overall we are pleased with the progress that has been made. The bottom line is that there are more people in New Jersey who will now have health insurance who didn't in the past, and that is a great thing."

    Horizon, the state's largest insurer, announced an "Insure-A-Thon" this weekend to help consumers purchase health plans by the March 31 deadline.

    Horizon's call center will be open for extended hours Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. For those who want to shop for coverage in person, the Horizon Connect Center will have extended hours and the Blue to You van will be a mobile location for information and coverage.

    Joseph Albano, vice president of consumer and senior markets for Horizon, said "Through the Insure-A-Thon, we want residents looking for insurance to know that more than 80 percent of individuals who have purchased an ACA plan with Horizon have received financial assistance to help pay their health insurance premium, which has averaged $272 a month."

    Individuals can call the Insure-A-Thon number, 1-877-347-3459 Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Monday, 8 a.m. to midnight. There will also be extended hours at the Horizon Connect retail location at the East Gate Square Shopping Center in Moorestown and the Horizon Blue to You van will be at the Walgreen's Pharmacy in West Long Branch on Monday from noon to midnight. Horizon's customer service phone lines at 1-800-355-BLUE will be open Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Monday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

    Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey is a new nonprofit cooperative insurance company launched with loans provided by the ACA. The company said it's gotten a good reception. Consumers are reaching the insurer at HealthCare.gov through its website, newjersey.healthrepublic.us and by phone: 888-990-5706.

    "New Jersey residents do seem open to the changes in the health insurance landscape and we've encountered many who are excited to learn about the new options we're bringing to consumers," said Cynthia Jay, chief marketing officer of HRINJ.

    "HealthCare.gov has seen significant improvement since its early months and, as with any change as sweeping and significant as the ACA, new challenges to overcome do emerge periodically. Because we are so focused on customer care and member engagement, we have had a pretty smooth implementation process since January 1 and our members seem to be generally satisfied and happy with their service."

    Looking ahead, Jay said "We are on the edge of significant health insurance and health care delivery reform and are preparing ourselves to be the provider of choice as people overcome their initial reaction to change and begin to assume more responsibility for their personal health. As Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey and our products become more recognizable in the marketplace, and we make adjustments in products in response to consumer demand, we think there will be increased and continued interest in comparing and choosing our offerings for years to come."

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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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