Maryland health officials said Friday that enrollment in private health insurance on the state exchange increased by more than 50 percent during the third week of December, totaling 11,715 signups since the website launched in October.
The tally through Dec. 21 represents an increase of nearly 4,300 enrollments since the end of the previous week. Still, the state is far short of its goal for signups by the end of March.
State officials say the health exchange website is working much better since its Oct. 1 debut, when it had trouble almost as soon as it opened. But problems remain.
The deadline for people to enroll in health care plans to get coverage Jan. 1 in Maryland is midnight Friday for CareFirst and United Healthcare. Deadlines for the two others, Evergreen Health Cooperative and Kaiser Permanente, have been extended to midnight Tuesday.
Consumers will have until Jan. 15 to pay for their coverage, and they are urged to send payment directly to the carrier as soon as they receive an invoice. Maryland Health Connection's consumer support center extended operating hours on Friday until 10 p.m. The exchange also urged people who have trouble to try again later, because heavy volume during peak hours can cause errors and delays.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, the CEO of Evergreen, said while the website has improved, people generally still need help to enroll.
"Basically, you need to use people who know the workarounds and how the system works to get around bottlenecks,'' Beilenson said.
Beilenson also said Evergreen has suspended its advertising campaign until the website is working better because the company doesn't want to spend money on advertising if people are only going to be frustrated by the site.
"We're kind of holding our big guns until the exchange is working really smoothly,'' Beilenson said.
Despite the website problems, Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he still is aiming to meet the goal of enrolling 260,000 people in private insurance and Medicaid by the end of March. Through Dec. 21, the state says 30,874 residents have been found eligible for a Medicaid program through the state's health exchange.
Separately from the exchange, the state says that in addition, as of Dec. 23, 90,847 residents have signed up through the Primary Adult Care program to be automatically enrolled in Medicaid coverage on Jan. 1.