— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The number of Alabamians signing up for the federally operated health insurance marketplace jumped significantly in the past month, with more than 28,600 signed up through late December.
Enrollment under the federal health care law started Oct. 1. The number the first month was 624. Enroll grew to 3,448 through November and then to 28,663 through Dec. 28, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday.
One of the organizations helping explain the federally facilitated marketplace to people in north Alabama saw a rush in December as the federal marketplace website improved and people sought to start insurance on Jan. 1. Mary Elizabeth Marr, CEO of the AIDS Action Coalition, said people seemed to panic as the year's end approached, and the organization worked up to the last minute to help people sign up.
She said enrollment in January has been steady, but more orderly. "The panic seems to have gone away," she said.
Federal health officials said 58 percent of those who have signed up in Alabama are women. That's slightly more than the national average. The biggest group signing up in Alabama is those 55 to 64 years old, in line with the national trend.
About 70 percent of the Alabamians picked the second-level silver plan. Nationally, about 60 percent went with the silver plan. Twenty percent nationally picked the bottom-level bronze plan compared to 9 percent in Alabama.
Marr said her organization has steered people to the silver plan because the federal subsidies are much better than the bronze plan. "That's the best bang for the buck," she said.
In Alabama, 83 percent of those who signed up qualified for financial assistance. That's slightly higher than the national average of 79 percent.
The federal statistics indicate the numbers will keep climbing in Alabama because nearly 9,000 people have completed an application and qualified for financial assistance, but have not yet signed up for insurance.
Of those who have applied in Alabama, 9,676 had incomes low enough to qualify for either Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program and didn't need to sign up for the health insurance marketplace, the federal report said.
Still, there is a long way to go. A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says about 198,000 Alabamians are eligible for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance under the federal health care law. That represents 30 percent of Alabama's 660,000 residents without health insurance.