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HHS’ Burwell asks pharmacies to help spur ACA enrollment

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SAN ANTONIO — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell stopped at an H-E-B grocery store here, where she drew attention to the December 15 enrollment deadline for consumers who wanted their health insurance plans to become active on ­January 1.

Although open enrollment for 2016 health insurance plans continued through January 31, those purchasing plans after the mid-December deadline will see their coverage become active later in the year — either on February 1 or March 1.

Burwell’s department revealed that over 317,000 Texans have signed up for 2016 health insurance plans sold on the federally operated exchange, called the Health Insurance Marketplace, established after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Burwell said seven out of 10 shoppers going through the federal exchange can find health insurance with a premium of $75 per month or less. She urged consumers to shop around for the best options, noting that those who shopped last year instead of automatically re-enrolling in the same plans saved on average $40 a month, or $480 annually.

“We’ve had the lowest growth in prices that we have had in decades overall,” Burwell noted while she was standing in the produce section of the H-E-B Plus store. “And that’s not just in the marketplace — that’s actually in overall care.”

While visiting San Antonio, Burwell met privately with health enrollment officials before proceeding to H-E-B, where she was given a tour of the pharmacy. Burwell met briefly with the retailer’s executives and greeted employees.

Burwell praised H-E-B for its efforts to raise public awareness of health insurance enrollment opportunities. The grocery giant has allowed independent insurance agents to operate enrollment booths at visible spots inside its stores near the pharmacies.

Likewise, CVS/pharmacy, Rite Aid Corp., Thrifty White Pharmacy and Walgreen Co. are among chains that have partnered with the Obama administration to alert the public to the availability of free or reduced-cost health coverage. According to HHS, over 38,000 drug stores agreed to promote the waning days of the 2016 sign-up period.

After her return to Washington, Burwell issued a statement regarding the progress of the current open enrollment period: “Through December 17, about 6 million people signed up for marketplace coverage in states that use HealthCare.gov. Of these, 2.4 million were new marketplace customers, more than a third more than we signed up ahead of the first deadline last year.

“The unprecedented demand and the millions of new customers who have signed up for health insurance send a clear message: The marketplaces meet an important need that had gone unanswered for too long. Millions of Americans want and need coverage, and they’re finding affordable, high-quality coverage through HealthCare.gov — many for less than $75 per month in premiums after tax credits.

“We’re reminding Americans that in-person assistance is available, that tax credits help lower the cost of coverage, and that if someone chooses not to buy health insurance and could afford to do so, they’re at risk of paying a $695 fee or more. We know millions more Americans remain uninsured, and we’re encouraging them not to wait.”


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