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States have high hopes for health insurance exchanges

By Maryalene LaPonsie on September 1st, 2013

A survey conducted by USA Today finds states are more optimistic than the federal government when it comes to estimating how many people will buy medical insurance on health insurance exchanges.

Open enrollment on the exchanges is scheduled to begin next month, and states are preparing for millions to shop for coverage on the online marketplaces. According to the survey, 19 states have reported they expect at least 8.5 million uninsured individuals will find health insurance coverage on the exchanges.

State estimates exceed federal expectations

If the results of the survey are any indication, the number of people using the health insurance exchanges may far exceed federal estimates. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that 7 million Americans across all 50 states will buy medical insurance off the exchanges in 2014.

However, USA Today found the 19 states that had estimates available were expecting at least 8.5 million customers to use the online marketplaces. Of those, 5.3 million are expected to be California residents.

Although the newspaper contacted all 50 states, less than half had estimates available regarding the number of residents they expect to use their health insurance exchange. The numbers anticipated by those 19 states mean the actual amount of customers nationwide who will be shopping on the exchanges could be double or even triple federal estimates.

Exchanges offer new way to buy health insurance

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, health insurance exchanges will be available in all 50 states. While some exchanges will be created and maintained by states, those who live in states that have opted out will purchase plans from a site administered by the federal government.

In addition to being a convenient way to shop, the exchanges are hoped to be an avenue to low cost health insurance for working families. The health reform law provides for government subsidies for those with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty limit who buy their health insurance coverage on an exchange. Using 2013 poverty guidelines, that means a family of four could earn up to $94,200 annually and still receive a subsidy.

Medical insurance sold on the exchanges will be broken down into tiers that include bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans. The designations refer to the level of coverage offered by the plan. Bronze options will pay for 60 percent of the cost of covered benefits while platinum plans cover 90 percent of price of approved services.

With the Kaiser Family Foundation estimating 48 million people were without health insurance coverage in 2011, exchanges have the potential to get even more traffic that either states or the federal government expect.

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