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Nov 26, 2014 11:46 AM

Health insurance sign-ups coming to shopping malls

The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) The Obama administration will promote health insurance coverage at shopping malls starting on Black Friday and continuing through the busiest shopping days of the holiday season, officials announced Wednesday. They said more than 462,000 people selected a private insurance plan in the first week of 2015 enrollment through the online marketplace HealthCare.gov.

The government's enrollment push with Westfield Shopping Centers will involve setting up outreach tables at malls in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Washington state. Separately, the California insurance marketplace, Covered California, will work with Westfield malls in that state.

The administration released what it called a snapshot of signups for the first week of the enrollment period, which started Nov. 15. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said 462,125 people chose a health plan in the 37 states using the federal website.

Of those, 48 percent are new customers, including enrollees in Oregon and Nevada, which turned over their troubled insurance markets to the federal government. The figures don't include states running their own insurance markets. The numbers represent only the choice of a plan, and not whether consumers paid their first month's premium a requirement for coverage to start.

"We're off to a solid start but we've got a lot of work every day between now and Feb. 15," the last day of the enrollment period, Burwell said in a conference call with reporters. About 1 million people phoned the enrollment site's help line, she said, and roughly an additional 100,000 callers chose to speak with a Spanish-speaking representative.

Burwell said the administration is sticking with its previously announced goal of signing up 9.1 million consumers for coverage in 2015.

Unlike last year, the website suffered no outages in the first week, officials said, and it's ready to handle 250,000 users at a time during anticipated surges around deadlines. Consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage to start on Jan. 1.

The figures announced Wednesday don't include dental plans, Burwell stressed. Last week, the administration acknowledged it had been over-reporting the number of enrollees by double-counting about 400,000 who had both medical and dental plans. Burwell said she has directed her staff to find out how the double-counting happened.

Burwell promised a weekly update on enrollment along with more thorough monthly reports that will include what's happening in state-based markets.

Along with the shopping mall campaign, HHS announced marketing partnerships with the National Community Pharmacists Association and the XO Group, a company that runs websites targeting brides, new mothers and homeowners. The pharmacists group will get enrollment information to its members and pharmacy customers, officials said. The XO Group will post blog content on its sites.


Associated Press medical writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson


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