---- — INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly 2,800 Indiana residents chose a health insurance plan through the federally run online exchange during its second month of operation — about four times the number who obtained coverage through the glitch-plagued exchange in its first month, the federal government said Wednesday.
A total of 3,492 Indiana residents chose health insurance plans through the exchange between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That's up from just 701 Hoosiers who selected health plans during the exchange's first month.
But the nearly 3,500 Indiana residents who obtained health plans through the exchange by Nov. 30 is only a tiny fraction of the more than 500,000 Hoosiers eligible to do so.
The new HHS numbers show that nearly 35,700 applications from uninsured Indiana residents seeking coverage were completed during the exchange's first two months. Those applications sought coverage for nearly 70,000 people, of whom nearly 39,000 had been found eligible to enroll in a plan through the exchange.
The new figures don't indicate how many Indiana residents selecting a health plan have started paying premiums.
Indiana Family and Social Services Administration spokesman Jim Gavin said the agency had no comment Wednesday on the Indiana numbers released by HHS.
More than 4 million Americans have lost their health coverage because their individual plans didn't measure up under the federal health care law. State officials estimate that 108,000 Indiana residents have lost health coverage due to such policy cancellations.
Despite those woes and lingering problems with the website, the executive director of the advocacy group Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, David Roos, said he's pleased to see that Indiana's enrollment numbers are growing.
Roos said his group is urging Hoosiers seeking health coverage to use the still-problematic exchange in the coming days to apply for coverage before a Dec. 23 enrollment deadline to have coverage on Jan. 1.
"Obviously we'd hoped that things would have started off on a better foot, but like many other programs ramp-up is often difficult," he said. "The good news is that clearly progress is being made — and people do want coverage."
The revamped federal website, HealthCare.gov, serves 36 states, but it continues to have issues and enrollment is lagging well behind projections.
Nationwide, the enrollment statistics show 364,682 American had signed up for private coverage by Nov. 30 under the federal health law. That's less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials had originally been projected to enroll nationwide by the end of November.
Heather McCabe, an Indiana University assistant professor of social work at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said the low enrollment numbers point to the need for research into why so many eligible people have not applied for coverage through the exchange.
McCabe, an expert on the health care law, said the question is whether many people are turned off by the problematic website, don't know they're eligible to use the exchange or have found that they can't afford the premiums they are seeing on the exchange.
"If the answer is that people still don't understand what the exchange is and how to use it then we need to educate and help people better access the system," she said. "But if the answer is that the premiums are too high then we have an issue that's a little more difficult to deal with. We can't advocate that insurers lower their premiums."