Kansans still slow to embrace health marketplace
By JOHN HANNA
By JOHN HANNA
AP Political Writer
TOPEKA — Kansans remained slow to enroll in health insurance plans in November through the online marketplace set up under the federal health care overhaul, though enrollments did jump, figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed Wednesday.
The federal agency reported that 1,855 Kansas residents had selected a plan through the marketplace through Nov. 30, less than 10 percent of the 19,038 who were deemed eligible for coverage. Both figures also are dwarfed by a Census Bureau estimate earlier this year that 363,000 of the state's 2.8 million residents are uninsured.
But the end-of-November enrollment figure for Kansas was five times as high as the 371 reported by HHS as of Nov. 2, following a month of problems with the marketplace website resulting in frozen computer screens and some consumers unable even to get a password. The data covered weeks in which the federal government was working to repair the website.
The online marketplace is a key part of the federal overhaul of health care championed by President Barack Obama. The 2010 health care law mandates that most individuals obtain coverage for next year or face tax penalties, and consumers using the exchange must enroll by Dec. 23 to have coverage that starts in January.
"Kansans don't like Obamacare," said Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a reconstructive plastic surgeon and the leading spokesman for conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on health care issues. "It doesn't give them choices. It's not necessarily more affordable."
The federal government is running the exchange for Kansas because most Republican officials in its GOP-dominated state government view the Democratic president's signature domestic initiative as deeply flawed and have resisted state involvement. They saw the rocky rollout of the marketplace and low enrollment figures for Kansas as confirming their assessments.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a conservative Republican representing the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas, said the numbers demonstrate that the health care overhaul is "extremely unpopular." Fellow conservative GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo, who represents the 4th District of south-central Kansas, called it "a disaster."
"These numbers are a massive disappointment, but not a surprise given the breadth of the administration's broken promises," Pompeo said.
But Linda Sheppard, the Kansas Insurance Department's health policy director, said the next report from HHS will be far more significant, because it will contain data since HHS improved the website.
"We think things have improved, really significantly, since Dec. 1," she said.
Also, Debbie Berndsen, who oversees recruitment and training of consumer-assisting health care "navigators" for the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, said people seeking coverage are taking time to review their options and not rushing their decisions.
The HHS report said the marketplace received 12,900 completed applications through the end of November, seeking coverage for 26,617 individuals. The report did not say how many Kansans had been deemed ineligible for coverage through the online marketplace.
The report also said 2,353 people were determined to be eligible for health coverage through either the Medicaid program for the needy and disabled or the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is designed for families with modest incomes.
Of the individuals deemed eligible for coverage through the marketplace, 7,210 of them, or about 38 percent, also were eligible for subsidies to help them buy coverage.
But the assistance isn't available for people whose households earn less than the federal poverty level, or $23,550 for a family of four, because the law anticipated that states would expand their Medicaid programs.
But the Republican-dominated Legislature blocked any Medicaid expansion in Kansas. The nonpartisan Kansas Health Institute has estimated that nearly 88,000 uninsured Kansans, including more than 29,000 children, do not qualify either for existing Medicaid coverage or subsidies for private insurance.
Berndsen called the situation "a little disheartening."