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Number of people signing up for insurance has accelerated in 2014

Federal and health care officials are making a final push to encourage people to sign up for health insurance.

Officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services office in Denver were in Grand Forks on Tuesday as part of that effort. A month from now, March 31, the first open enrollment period to sign up for insurance will end, meaning people who can afford insurance but aren’t signed up by April may have to pay a fee.

Diane Domke, CMS deputy regional administrator, said she’s encouraged by the recent spike in enrollment figures here and nationally. Insurance plan selections grew by 53 percent in January, according to the CMS, nearly matching the growth rate in North Dakota during that same time.

As of Feb. 1, 4,057 people in North Dakota had selected an insurance plan through the marketplace. That’s up from 2,624 who chose a plan in the final three months of 2013. Another 4,071 here have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Still, many states, including North Dakota, are well behind enrollment goals, according to a New York Times analysis. North Dakota’s goal of signing up 6,820 people after the first four months of enrollment was set in September, before the launch of the online exchanges that were plagued by software glitches.

“I think it’s extremely encouraging how things are picking up,” Domke said. “Are we where we’d like to be? Absolutely not. We’d like to have 100 percent of the people eligible enrolled.”

Getting care

In a small meeting room at the Grand Forks Public Library Tuesday, Mary Reyerson was helping people sign up for health insurance. Her job as Valley Community Health Center’s outreach and enrollment specialist has become steadily busier in recent months as bugs get worked out of the health insurance marketplace website, and the open enrollment period comes to a close.

Reyerson said some people simply need help navigating the application process.

 “A lot of people coming to us are saying that ‘we’re confused and don’t know what to do,’” she said.

Others, like Margaret Ferguson, need help fighting for the insurance for which they are eligible. Ferguson had gone without health insurance for more than 20 years, as several pre-existing health conditions made insurance unaffordable, she said. 

She said she received a “letter of denial” in January, but with Reyerson’s help, Ferguson appealed and received her insurance card in the mail just a few weeks ago.

“I couldn’t believe it. I just cried,” Ferguson said. “It just gave me hope.”

She encouraged those still needing to sign up for insurance to seek help from people trained to help them through the application process.

While the end of the open enrollment period could mean financial penalties for those who waited too long to sign up, Domke said her bigger worry is people putting off needed medical care because they don’t have health insurance.

“That’s ultimately the concern I have,” she said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

(701) 255-5607
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