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Friday, March 7, 2014

Momentum for Buying Health Insurance Continues to Grow

There are now 24 days until March 31—the last day to buy health insurance through the marketplace. As of the end of January, 3.3 million people had signed up for coverage, and the Obama Administration has now shared that enrollment has grown to 4 million.  

As Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post pointed out, the January sign-ups have kept pace with projections for the first time since open enrollment. And momentum appears to be growing; in January alone, enrollment grew by 53 percent. And there is no sign that it will slow down before the end of the open enrollment period.    

These statistics underscore the growing momentum behind the Affordable Care Act and the increasing public understanding of the law’s benefits. Furthermore, 82 percent of those who have enrolled in private insurance (buying a health plan in the marketplace) have received financial assistance, which indicates just how crucial financial help is for consumers (see our state-by-state infographics on how many people in each state are eligible to receive financial assistance.) And, more than 80% of those individuals have chosen platinum, gold, or silver plans—meaning the vast majority of enrollees have chosen comprehensive coverage that can give them peace of mind.  

But despite all of this good news, there remains an underlying trend that should concern health care advocates working to get more people covered. Recent surveys from Kaiser Family Foundation, Commonwealth Fund, and Enroll America all found that substantial numbers of uninsured adults remain unaware that they may be able to get financial assistance to help pay for their health insurance. Enroll America’s survey also found that the most common reason people haven’t yet visited a marketplace is that they cannot afford health insurance. 

And the problem—unsurprisingly—seems to be more pervasive for the people who stand to gain the most from the Affordable Care Act: Latinos, those with lower incomes and less education, and young adults. It will take significantly more and consistent outreach efforts targeted in smart and creative ways to break through this gap in awareness. Raising awareness about the financial help available to people is central to these efforts. We encourage you to share our latest data on financial assistance widely with your networks. Also share the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s new website, www.financialhelpforhealth.org – it has information about financial help for consumers and great examples of how people can benefit. 

New methods for raising awareness are important, but so is creative outreach designed to reach a specific audience. California, for example, has just launched a new awareness campaign focused on Latinos, which is important given that California is the state with the highest number and rate of uninsured Latinos. Half of the uninsured in California are Latino, yet Latinos represent—so far—just 28 percent of total enrollment. This campaign will be important because California’s health insurance marketplace is otherwise performing very well. If the state is able to make a significant increase in Latino enrollment, it will learn valuable lessons that can be adapted for outreach to Latino communities across the nation. 

There are just 24 days until the end of March, and momentum is building. But unfortunately, our job informing the uninsured about their new opportunity to buy health coverage is far from over. Educating consumers about their options and their chance to get financial help is key to increasing the number of people who sign up for coverage.