Michigan health insurance sign-ups near 300,000

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Nearly 300,000 Michiganians have signed up for health insurance through the federal government with just over three weeks remaining to enroll, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday.

Nearly 7.2 million Americans have selected a plan at HealthCare.gov since the Affordable Care Act’s second open enrollment period opened on Nov. 15. This year’s enrollment period is three months, compared with six months last year, and closes on Feb. 15.

Federal officials say they are working nearly around the clock to inform consumers and businesses.

“Last week, just before the deadline for Feb. 1 coverage, approximately 290,439 people in Michigan selected a plan that worked for their family,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Time is running out.”

As of Wednesday, there were 299,750 signed up for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace exchange.

The announcement came as Marianne Markowitz, regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, met with small business owners in Detroit to talk about resources available to help decide on their health care options.

Tax credits are available to qualifying individuals and businesses to help cover the cost of health insurance, federal officials noted. Among consumers buying individual plans in the first month after enrollment opened on Nov. 15, 89 percent qualified for tax credits, according to totals released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tax breaks can be reduced or eliminated if circumstances change.

“If you don’t have health coverage, visit HealthCare.gov or contact the Marketplace call center to learn about your options and the financial help that is available,” Burwell said in a statement.

This is the first year when some employers with 50 or more workers are required to provide health insurance. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to provide health insurance for workers, but could qualify for tax credits to cover as much as 50 percent of the cost if they enroll through the SHOP, or Small Business Health Options Program.

The SHOP is open to employers with one to 50 employees — including non-profit and religious organizations. It is similar to the health insurance exchange for individuals because it allows employers to compare plans side by side and to apply for tax credits.

The SHOP can be accessed through the HealthCare.gov website, or call 1-800-706-7893. Employers are allowed to enroll in SHOP any month, any time of year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The federal government has not released information on the number of employers who have purchased plans through the SHOP or qualified for tax credits.

“SHOP was created to give small businesses choice and to add value to the entrepreneurs and small business owners who are seeking new, affordable options for their own coverage and their employees,” HHS spokesman Ben Wakana said in a statement Wednesday. “We have full online functionality this year, with the SHOP site working well and increased SHOP Call Center volume. We still have work to do and will continue to listen to ideas for improving SHOP so that more small businesses and entrepreneurs take advantage of it.”