North Dakota readies for 2nd round of health insurance enrollment; signups start Saturday

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — The second round to enroll for coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law begins Saturday and enrollment counselors aim to help reach the uninsured in every one of North Dakota's 53 counties through education and outreach.

Just over 11,300 people signed up for health insurance in North Dakota using the federal insurance marketplace during the first enrollment period, state Insurance Department data show.

But several thousand more likely remain uninsured, said Neil Scharpe, who is in charge of the state's 16 navigators who are helping inform people of their options under the new law.

"People with prior existing conditions were probably the first in line because they finally had access to health care," he said. "We're going to need to dig a little deeper this time around for people who don't have health insurance and are living on the sidelines."

The second enrollment period to get benefits runs through Feb. 15. The health law requires most people to have health insurance. The penalty for having no health insurance in 2015 is going up to $325 per adult or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater, up to a cap.

The certified health guides, who are funded by a $451,000 federal grant, will once again be meeting with people individually or with groups at town hall meetings, encouraging them to enroll in the online marketplaces, where consumers can compare plans and buy health insurance.

"We are going to really concentrate on the education end of things," Sharpe said Friday. "In every county, we will be doing some sort of event."

North Dakota is one of about three dozen states where the federal government is running the marketplaces.

North Dakota has three insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, Medica and Sanford — that are offering coverage through the marketplaces.

The health care law also is designed to reduce the number of people without health insurance through an expansion of Medicaid.

About 14,800 people — mostly adults without children — have been enrolled in the expanded state's Medicaid program through July, state data show. Julie Schwab, director of medical services for the state Department of Human Services, said signups are averaging about 1,000 monthly.

Officials have estimated more than 20,000 additional North Dakotans could be added under the expansion of Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

The state Insurance Department has estimated that 10 to 15 percent of North Dakotans historically have had no health insurance.

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