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ACA enrollment off to a good start

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WASHINGTON — Nearly 6.5 million consumers selected a health insurance plan or were automatically reenrolled under the Affordable Care Act in November and December.

And 87% of people who selected 2015 plans through HealthCare.gov in the first month of open enrollment are getting subsidies to lower premiums, the government reported.

“We’re pleased that nationwide, millions of people signed up for Marketplace coverage starting January 1,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “The vast majority were able to lower their costs even further by getting tax credits, making a difference in the bottom lines of so many families. Interest in the marketplace has been strong during the first month of open enrollment. We still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do before February 15, but this is an encouraging start.”

Enrollment for 2015 began November 15 and runs through February 15. HealthCare.gov last month automatically reenrolled consumers who had not chosen a 2015 plan.

As newly insured Americans began using their benefits, Walgreens Boots Alliance announced it would provide medication assistance to patients who may have difficulty using their new coverage. Through the end of January, patients who haven’t yet received a plan identification number from their insurer or are otherwise having difficulty can bring confirmation of their marketplace enrollment to a Walgreens pharmacy and get up to one month of a traditional brand or generic medication at no up-front cost.

“We recognize that some newly enrolled individuals will need medications while their benefits information is being updated with their new insurer,” said Walgreens president of pharmacy and retail operations Richard Ashworth. “Last year we were able to help many new and existing patients get their prescriptions filled without interruption, and we’ll continue to provide assistance to support another influx of newly insured customers as we begin the new year.”

For people who haven’t gotten insurance, this year will bring tax penalties. It’s the first year, under the ACA, that all taxpayers must report whether they had coverage for the previous year. Those who were uninsured face fines, unless they qualify for an exemption, typically involving financial ­hardship.

With the law’s employer mandate taking effect in January, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that six in 10 Americans have a favorable view of the provision, which in 2015 requires employers with 100 or more full-time workers to offer health coverage or pay a penalty. Less than four in 10 (38%) said they have an unfavorable view.

But opinions on the employer mandate aren’t necessarily fixed. The share with a favorable view rose from 60% to 76% after opponents were told that “most employers with 100 or more workers already offer health insurance and won’t have to pay the fine.” In contrast, the share with an unfavorable opinion rose from 38% to 68% after supporters were told that “some employers are moving some workers from full-time to part-time to avoid paying the fine.”

In Congress, one of the new Republican majority’s first legislative priorities was changing the ACA’s definition of full-time from 30 hours a week to 40 hours. But President Obama threatened a veto.


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