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 The leading web portal for pharmacy resources, news, education and careers May 28, 2017
Pharmacy Choice - Pharmaceutical News - Erie area sees Obamacare enrollment spike By David Bruce - May 28, 2017

Pharmacy News Article

 2/17/17 - Erie area sees Obamacare enrollment spike By David Bruce

At least 9,808 Erie-area residents signed up for health coverage in 2017 through the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace, bucking a nationwide enrollment decline.

The number surpassed the 9,356 people from Erie's designated marketplace area - which includes Erie, Crawford and Warren counties - who enrolled for coverage in 2016, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Erie DMA numbers for previous years were not available.

Nationally, about 12.2 million people signed up for coverage in 2017 through the marketplace, a decline of about 4 percent, the Associated Press reported.

"I think we saw an increase here because there was more media attention about enrollment," said Belinda Newell-Mosley, a certified marketplace navigator for Community Health Net. "I saw commercials about the marketplace, not just from health insurers but from (the federal government's website) healthcare.gov."

Another possible reason for the increase was the layoff of about 1,500 GE Transportation workers during early 2016 and their need for health insurance.

Both Newell-Mosley and Michelle Robertson, a volunteer certified marketplace navigator who enrolls people at her office at Hamot Health Foundation, said they helped former GE employees select health plans for 2017. The 2017 enrollment period for most people ended Jan. 31.

"I saw a significant number of people who lost employer-contributed health coverage," Robertson said.

Erie's enrollment increase came despite President Donald Trump's vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act and premium increases for plans of between 20 percent and 40 percent, though those increases were offset for most income-eligible enrollees by tax credit hikes.

Credits are available on a sliding scale for people who earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of federal income

poverty guidelines.

"We had a few people who fell in the 250-to-400 percent range, and their premium cost rose significantly this year," Newell-Mosley said.

A majority of Robertson's and Community Health Net's enrollees chose coverage with UPMC Health Plan, whose premiums were considerably less expensive than those offered by Highmark Inc. Only two insurers offered 2017 marketplace plans for northwestern Pennsylvania.

"Cost was a concern," Newell-Mosley said. "Some people were willing to switch doctors to get the plan they wanted."

Nearly every person who met with Robertson asked her about the Affordable Care Act's future. Trump and Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal and replace the act they call Obamacare.

"All I can tell people is that it's unlikely that there will be any major changes for the rest of 2017," Robertson said. "But I make no predictions for 2018."

David Bruce can be reached at 870-1736 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNbruce.

See health, B2



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