By Alicia McElhaney
WASHINGTON—The number of people who signed up for private qualified health plans through the Maryland Health Connection nearly doubled during this year's enrollment period, numbers released Monday show.
According to the latest statistics, through Feb. 28, enrollment in private plans rose from 63,002 last year to 122,778 this year.
"You not only had the system working, you had the human beings involved who were more knowledgeable about it," said Andrew Ratner, director of marketing and outreach for the Maryland Health Connection . "Once the system worked, more people were encouraged to come through."
Although the enrollment period ended Feb 15, people who started an application or tried to reach a call center that day were given until Feb. 28 to complete their applications.
The total number of people who signed up for health coverage through the Maryland Health Connection remains lower than last year's total at this point-289,131 so far this year versus 295,077 during the 2013-2014 period.
The decrease in the overall number resulted from a decline in Medicaid enrollments, from 232,075 last year to 166,353 so far this year. However, last year's enrollment period was a month longer.
Ratner said Medicaid redetermines who is eligible in March or April, then moves those people from the old system to the Maryland Health Connection. Because last year's enrollment period ran until March 31, the Medicaid numbers from last year include some of these redeterminations.
While many may sign up for Medicaid during open enrollment as a result of the advertising push, people can get Medicaid year-round, Ratner said.
The number of those insured through the Maryland Health Connection with private qualified health plans also may increase later this year, Ratner said.
Keeping with the extension made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Maryland added another deadline extension to allow people who owe a tax penalty for not having health care in 2014 and who didn't know about the penalty to enroll. These people, who Ratner said make up a small percentage of the population, will be able to sign up for coverage between March 15 and April 30.
Those who experience a life-changing event, like having a baby, getting divorced or changing jobs will also be able to enroll for a qualified health plan.
While the enrollment, especially in Medicaid, will most likely increase in months to come, Ratner is already thinking about increasing enrollment during the 2015-2016 period.
"For the third year, we would hope to get to harder-to-reach people," Ratner said. "People in perhaps more distant parts of the state where the numbers of uninsured are higher are who we hope to reach."