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Oklahoma health insurance enrollment behind last year

The website is photographed in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. [AP photo]
The website is photographed in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. [AP photo]

Oklahoma City — About 4,500 fewer Oklahomans have signed up to buy health insurance through the exchange than did at this time last year, raising concerns that more will go without insurance in 2019.

Open enrollment runs through Dec. 15. People who don't sign up before then will have to go without coverage until January 2020, unless they have special circumstances such as the birth of a child or losing a job.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported 38,659 people in Oklahoma had signed up for coverage through the exchange as of Nov. 24. Nationwide, 2.4 million people have chosen a plan, with about one-quarter of them listed as new customers.

Last year, 43,253 Oklahomans and 2.8 million people nationwide had signed up as of Nov. 25. The agency releases the information on a weekly basis, and dates vary year to year.

Coverage starts on Jan. 1. Households who earn less than four times the poverty line, or $100,400 for a family of four, can qualify for subsidies. Families that earn less than the poverty line, or $25,100 for four people, don't qualify for financial help because Oklahoma hasn't expanded Medicaid.

Andrea Chica-Rodriguez, one of two navigators at the Latino Community Development Agency, said confusion about the exchange is widespread this year. Some people think they have until January to sign up, while others are worried they already missed the deadline.

“The clock is ticking,” she said.

People who immigrated legally are shying away from the exchange this year, because of fears it could count against them when they apply for permanent residency, Chica-Rodriguez said. President Donald Trump's administration has proposed counting Medicaid usage as evidence a person is a “public charge,” which makes it harder to get a green card, but buying insurance through the exchange won't hurt a person's immigration status, she said. Undocumented immigrants aren't eligible to purchase coverage.

Chica-Rodriguez said she expects a last-minute rush of sign-ups next week, but some people may have decided forgo insurance because they no longer face a tax penalty for going without coverage.

Unfortunately, that could leave them in a jam if they have an injury, like one woman who recently came to try to buy coverage after she broke her arm, she said.

“I said, ‘This insurance won't kick in until next year,'” she said. “She said, ‘Well, then I'm going to have a broken arm until next year, because I can't afford it.'”

“That's what I'm trying to avoid.”

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›