Despite Good Deals On Health Plans, Sign-Ups Still Slow In Mississippi

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Mississippi is still lagging in numbers of people who are signing up for health insurance, despite insurers trying to get people enrolled, and many people getting good prices for insurance coverage.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Since October, more than 2 million people have used new exchanges to sign up for private health insurance. We're going to focus now on sign-ups in Mississippi. Jeffrey Hess of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports that insurers there are working hard to enroll people despite wariness of the law.

JEFFREY HESS, BYLINE: About 275,000 uninsured Mississippians are eligible for the health insurance exchange, and they're slowly signing up for the new health coverage plans. Enrollment navigators and insurance companies are pushing to find and sign up people like 56-year-old Arlene Wilson (ph), who's a chef with a popular, local pizza shop in Jackson.

Wilson says until now, she and many of the people who work with her in the store have been unable to afford insurance.

ARLENE WILSON: Because most jobs don't offer health care, you know, and it's so high, we can't afford to pay, you know. Most of us live from paycheck to paycheck.

HESS: Although website issues made the enrollment process take almost two hours, Wilson was able to find a plan and was pleased with the rate.

WILSON: I got the premium plan, which pays up to 90 percent; and I got a credit of $711, so only thing I have to pay a month is 71 cents - less than a dollar.

HESS: Wilson's plan is so inexpensive because she makes less than $17,000 a year, and the premiums are reduced by federal subsidies that are tied to her income. Only two insurance companies are offering plans in Mississippi, and they only overlap in four of the state's 82 counties. However, those two companies appear to be betting that the website problems, and skepticism about the exchange in general, are passing.

One of the two companies, Humana, launched a late-December ad campaign to drive more people to the site says spokesman Mitch Lubitz.

MITCH LUBITZ: There's been a ramp-up as the healthcare.gov website has gotten easier to use, and there have been other options for people to go on and get information and enroll.

HESS: Mississippi's insurance commissioner, Mike Chaney, says the improvements to the enrollment process are good, but he's still skeptical they'll be able to get enough people signed up this year.

MIKE CHANEY: From zero through 10, I'd give it a confidence level of about a three.

HESS: That's still not very good.

CHANEY: It's not, but it's better than where I was at a one a week before last.

HESS: Chaney says the unofficial count is around 2,000 people enrolled. But he says if the trend continues upward, his confidence will rise to a five. For NPR News, I'm Jeffrey Hess in Jackson, Miss.

CORNISH: This story, as well as Sarah Varney's reporting, came to us from a partnership with Kaiser Health News.

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