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Nearly 1 million enroll in health insurance through government portal

By Maryalene LaPonsie on November 24th, 2013

The launch of health insurance exchanges last month was hampered by widespread technical difficulties. However, that didn't stop nearly 1 million people from completing their application and receiving an eligibility determination.

According to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services, the online health insurance exchanges attracted only a small number of the nation's uninsured population. Still, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the slow start isn't reason for concern, noting Massachusetts experienced a similar pattern when it implemented its health insurance mandate.

Only 10 percent of applicants enroll in health insurance plans

Within the first reporting period of open enrollment on the exchanges, 975,407 people reportedly made it through the application process and received an eligibility determination. Of those, only slightly more than 10 percent -- 106,185 applicants -- actually made a selection from the available health insurance plans and enrolled in coverage.

Those numbers are small compared to the overall number of individuals lacking health insurance coverage. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported there were more than 47 million non-elderly uninsured Americans as of 2012.

Despite the small number of enrollments, HHS says enrollments should increase in the coming months.

"There is no doubt the level of interest is strong," said Secretary Sebelius in a written statement. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced. We also expect that the numbers will grow as the website, HealthCare.gov, continues to make steady improvements.

Open enrollment runs through March

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, virtually all U.S. residents must have health insurance coverage in 2014 or face fines.

The health insurance exchanges are intended to provide individuals and families access to affordable health insurance. Those earning between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty limit will be eligible for tax credits to offset the premium costs for medical insurance bought on the exchanges.

Although relatively few have so far enrolled in health insurance plans offered on the exchanges, millions have visited the state and federal exchange websites. According to HHS, more than 25 million visitors have stopped by the online portal while another 3 million have contacted state and federal call centers associated with the exchanges.

Individuals have until March 31, 2014 to sign up for health insurance coverage this year and apply for the tax credits. Then, open enrollment will close until Oct. 15, 2014.

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