North Dakota enrollment in the federal health insurance marketplace jumped by about 1,500 during the month of January, an increase of more than 50 percent.
The marketplace was rolled out Oct. 1 as a part of the federal health care law. The open enrollment period ends March 31.
As of Feb. 1, the enrollment for North Dakota was just more than 4,000, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The number does not include those enrolling in Medicaid, which was expanded by the state Legislature last year.
In the last report, which calculated enrollment through Jan. 1, North Dakota had approximately 2,600 people enrolled, which was the lowest in the nation.
The state’s numbers still appear low in the recent report, but it is no longer the lowest.
Including those enrolling for Medicaid because of the expansion — also a part of the federal health care law — North Dakota’s total enrollment is closer to 7,000. That is more than some of the other states in the region, which also includes South Dakota, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah.
The 7,000 number pushes North Dakota ahead of both South Dakota and Wyoming, at about 5,000 and 5,300 respectively. Neither state voted for the Medicaid expansion.
The state Department of Human Services has enrolled 3,100 people through February through the Medicaid expansion.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota maintains its strong presence with 2,058 people enrolled through the marketplace as of Jan. 31.
As of this week, the Sanford Health Plan has received 212 applications through the marketplace. Of those, 153 are fully enrolled and have paid their initial premium.
Medica has had 408 fully-enrolled members through the marketplace and another 327 whose applications are pending.
Of those in North Dakota enrolling in the marketplace, 83 percent have been eligible for some sort of subsidy.
The initial rollout was rocky — plagued by website glitches and a vocal opposition. But Diane Domke, the deputy regional administrator for Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, said enrollment numbers are steadily increasing, even in more conservative states.
Many people were likely predisposed to dislike the health care law, known as “Obamacare,” she said, but as the negative rhetoric is falling away and the website is functioning well, they are trying it out.
Domke said she is hearing from local consumer assistance counselors who help people enroll for health care within the new system, that people are becoming increasingly open-minded about the idea of the marketplace.
“They keep hearing ‘It’s not affordable, it’s not affordable,’” she said. “Well, people need to check.”
Domke said her department is expecting a surge in March as open enrollment ends.
People can enroll at www.healthcare.gov or by calling the 24-hour hotline at 800-318-2596.
There are local consumer assistance counselors at Northland Community Health Centers in Bowbells, McClusky, Minot, Rolette, Rolla and Turtle Lake and Coal County Community Health Center in Beulah who can help people sign up for a plan through the marketplace.
The enrollment numbers are starting to look like what Domke had hoped the numbers would look like in the first couple of months, she said. Now, the marketplace is playing catch-up after the difficult rollout.
The website is working well now, however, and people should at least do a little window shopping to see if the marketplace would work for them, she said.