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updated: 2/13/2014 12:24 AM

Feds: More than 88K pick health plans in Illinois

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Associated Press

More than 88,000 Illinois residents signed up for private health insurance during the first four months of the nation's new insurance marketplace system, a heartening number for state officials because it shows Illinois catching up to targets from President Barack Obama's administration.

A federal report released Wednesday said 88,602 Illinois residents selected plans through the new marketplace from Oct. 1 through Feb. 1. That number nearly matches the federal government's original goal of 88,660 Illinoisans by the end of January. And it brings Illinois more than halfway toward the federal target of 143,000 sign-ups in Illinois by March 31.

"These numbers show we are making good progress, but we still have much to accomplish in the next 47 days," said Jennifer Koehler, executive director of Get Covered Illinois, the state's marketplace. "We are in the midst of a crucial push to enroll as many residents as possible for health coverage."

The Illinois numbers mirror an overall national turnaround since the early months of the program when technical problems with the website kept many people from signing up. The national enrollment figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show nearly 3.3 million people have signed up. The administration had set a goal of signing up 7 million people nationwide by March 31.

Officials are unable to say how many of those who signed up were previously uninsured.

For Illinois, the report showed 35 percent of the enrollees are ages 55 to 64, a group more likely to have expensive medical needs than younger people.

That figure underscores the next challenge for Illinois: honing a marketing strategy focused on young adults. Healthy adults ages 26 to 34 are a crucial demographic to the health law's success. Insurers need their participation to make up for the costs of covering older, sicker Americans. So far, 16 percent of the Illinois sign-ups are in the young adult group, ages 26 to 34.

Three in four of the Illinois enrollees qualified for financial help to lower the cost of health insurance, the report said. The most popular plans on the marketplace are the so-called silver plans with 54 percent of Illinois enrollees choosing them over other plans. Less expensive bronze plans were selected by 24 percent of Illinois residents with 22 percent opting for more expensive gold or platinum plans.

Illinois is among states supporting the health law with publicly funded advertising campaigns. The state's $33 million marketing strategy includes TV and radio ads, and, starting this week, digital banner ads on the satirical online newspaper The Onion.

The health care law requires nearly every American to have insurance coverage or pay either a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher.

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