Time is (sort of) running out to sign up for health insurance

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Photo: Health Care (iStock)March 31 marks the official deadline for people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But there’s some wiggle room in that deadline.

President Barack Obama last week gave more time to people who are in the process of enrolling. And the state had already planned to be flexible, according to Lindy Hinman, the chief operating officer for the state’s health exchange Connect for Health Colorado.

“If you applied for coverage today but were unable to finalize your enrollment for some reason, you’ll still be able to complete the process with us and we’ll make sure you get your coverage,” Hinman says.

So far, more than 250,000 people have signed up for health insurance through the exchange. More than 150,000 of those are enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program. The remaining 100,000 are signed up for private insurance.

While the number of Medicaid enrollments is slightly above projections, the number of people signing up for private insurance is lower than the target number. Experts say the financial viability of health care reform depends on having a substantial number of people signing up for private insurance, especially healthy young people.

Still, Hinman says the enrollments to date are a good start.

“Obviously, this was our first year, so it’s a little like throwing a dart at a dartboard,” Hinman says. “But we’re very happy about where we’ve landed, and of course we will be working over the coming year to prepare for the next open enrollment period…to make sure that we’re getting more and more folks signed up.”

Colorado ranks high in enrollments compared to other states that have set up exchanges, but some worry that without enough enrollments, costs will rise. Higher costs could lead even fewer people to enroll.

“This is a pretty historic change we’re making,” says Ellen Daehnick, who serves on the board of Connect for Health Colorado. She has voiced concerns about the lower-than-projected enrollment numbers. “We’re going to get one bite of this apple [and] if we don’t do this right, it’s probably going to be another 50 years before we get another chance, so it’s important that we’re successful in implementing it.”

Health experts say convincing the uninsured to buy health insurance is critical. But it’s an uphill battle, according to Michele Lueck, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Institute, a nonpartisan group that tracks health information in the state.

“Six out of 10 people who are still uninsured don’t even know about the deadlines that are in place to get insurance,” Lueck says.

Officials at Connect for Health Colorado say they expect a last-minute flurry of sign-ups today and will release updated enrollment numbers next month.