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After a rough start, healthcare.gov (the Federally Facilitated Marketplace) is beginning to experience a bit of a recovery. Although the launch was plagued with system crashes, non-availability and incorrect subsidy calculations, things are finally starting to look up.

According to the government, millions of enrollments were expected in the initial stages of the health reform rollout. Projections indicated that nearly half a million enrollments were expected within the first 30 days. However, enrollments were a lot lower than the projections. The problem was not limited to the site usability; it was also about the data that was being sent by the system. Several health plans experienced incorrect enrollments, missing information and individuals enrolling in multiple plans. The end result was incorrect data in the system and failed enrollments.  On the other hand, the states that opted to run their own exchanges were performing better but still dealing with less than expected enrollments.

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With the exchange now live, there has been some clarity in the carriers and rates for the Illinois state exchange. Consumers in Cook County will be able to choose plans offered by five carriers – Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Coventry, Health, Humana, Inc. and Land of Lincoln Health.

However, only BCBS and Land of Lincoln are offering both individual and small-group plans throughout the state. BCBS is offering 16 individual plans and 19 small businesses; Land of Lincoln is offering 19 individual and 16 small group plans. Offering the most individual plans – more than 30 different options – is Humana and Coventry.

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States like New Jersey have been getting a lot of attention ever since the conception of Obamacare health insurance marketplaces. There are multiple reasons for this, primarily because New Jersey, with approximately 900,000 uninsured residents, decided to utilize the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) and not to build its own exchange. Let’s take a look at what’s happening in the state.

What’s on Track?

The FFM is on track to be live on October 1. There were concerns that the FFM wouldn’t be ready in time but those fears were allayed by a recent announcement by Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. Since New Jersey has a higher percentage of uninsured residents than the national average, extra effort is being put in by the U.S. Health and Human Services office to alleviate any fears related to the implementation.

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A part of the group that decided to rely on federal government for implementation of health insurance marketplace, Maine is working round the clock to ensure that its residents do not face any trouble when the exchanges go live on October 1. However on October 1, will the public sign on? Many studies have shown that the majority of Americans are not aware of the exchanges and do not have a clear idea about purchasing health insurance online after October 1.

Maine marketplace authorities understand this problem, and that’s the reason why they are gathering their resources to meet an important target: guide Maine residents and help them purchase health insurance on the marketplace. As a part of a federal strategy to assist state governments in meeting this target as well as marketing the health insurance exchange, Maine has received two separate federal grants amounting to $542,000. These federal grants will be used for one purpose: marketing the exchange and educating residents about insurance shopping in the new era through exchange navigators.

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As the State of Washington gears up to launch its health insurance marketplace, Washington Healthplanfinder, it is facing the herculean task of signing up its uninsured population. By sheer numbers, Washington aims to insure 130,000 uninsured residents by the end of 2013, and nearly 280,000 citizens in 2014.

To achieve this goal, Washington must educate and disseminate information to residents who aren’t familiar with the marketplace. The state has decided to tackle this challenge by launching a campaign that will address all the means of communication and outreach with advertisements and promotions. The state has secured $26.3 million federal grant for such programs.

The campaign will include the following:

•    Online Advertisements The state has already started to run advertisements on Washington Healthplanfinder over popular networks, such as Google, Yahoo. The state hopes to reach insured and uninsured residents, so that people may educate each other about the program.

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As a part of the plan to have Maryland’s health insurance exchange, Maryland Health Connection, ready on October 1, they are reaching out to an important group that can help it sail through enrollments smoothly – health insurance brokers. With the deluge of new enrollments coming in soon, Maryland knows that brokers will be instrumental in taking some of the load off the state.

After October 1, Maryland expects 80,000 residents to use and enroll with the exchange. To meet the enrollment processing deadline of January 1, 2014, the state requires the help of brokers. As of now, nearly 900 brokers are registered with Maryland Health Connection, and Maryland hopes to increase the number of brokers. In an endeavor to attract more brokers, the state is hosting free training sessions and offering other benefits to brokers who sign up.

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As the deadline for health insurance marketplace implementation approaches, New York is moving full steam ahead with healthcare software. The state recently announced the name of its health insurance marketplace, “NY State of Health,” and plans to initiate marketing initiatives to capture the attention of uninsured New Yorkers, educate them on the marketplace and get them enrolled.

NY State of Health is attracting lot of attention, particularly because of the strategies New York is using to promote the exchange. In the coming weeks, New York will release ads that will reach out to different groups in the state and help them understand the benefits of enrollment. The central focus of the state will be

•    Promoting the expected savings for New Yorkers who enroll with the health insurance exchange. It is expected that the online marketplace will bring in benefits for uninsured Americans, and as many as 1 million Americans can expect a savings of up to 53 percent if they enroll in the new system.

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As the deadline for health insurance marketplace implementation edges closer, states are planning contingency measures to tackle last minute hassles and challenges. Although each state’s plan of action differs, there is common theme– states want to know the primary concerns of residents, and how to address them in a cohesive and comprehensive way. In fact, the state of Massachusetts has conducted a statewide poll capturing popular concerns of residents.

The poll, conducted by the Massachusetts Medical Society, randomly chose 417 adults from different areas of Massachusetts and conducted a telephone-based survey. The more prominent themes from the survey are listed below.

•    Most residents are worried about rising healthcare costs. Nearly 75 percent of the respondents felt that the expected rise in healthcare costs is the single most important issue facing healthcare in Massachusetts. In western and central Massachusetts, this number was a little lower at 67 percent. These regions saw the focus move a little toward access and quality of healthcare.

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With the health insurance marketplace rollout deadlines nearing, New Mexico received a $18.6M federal grant for marketing and outreach to help market the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange.

The current state of affairs at New Mexico health insurance marketplace shows us some important numbers and facts that are going to influence the health of the exchange once it goes live.

•    New Mexico expects to enroll about 80,000 uninsured citizens by next year and hopes to increase this number to 211,000 by 2020.

•    The current setup of New Mexico Health Insurance Marketplace is a hybrid model. They are using the Federally Facilitated Marketplace for individuals but will use a state-based exchange for businesses.

•    The entire success of this scheme depends upon reaching the uninsured and getting them to enroll into the health insurance system. About 400,000 potential customers, which comprise of individuals and businesses, are they key here.

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Direct Enrollment gives payers the ability to offer consumers a one stop shop when shopping for health insurance plans – allowing them to check for subsidies and enroll without ever leaving the payer site.

Retaining Customers through Direct Enrollment

From the perspective of the insurance carriers, things look rosy. Insurance carriers can now focus on enhancing the online consumer experience as the impending problem of consumers jumping from payers sites to the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) has been nullified. Naturally, a potential customer getting all the necessary information in a simplified, intuitive portal wouldn’t want to be redirected to another portal. With a streamlined enrollment process, fundamental subsidy application and ancillary plans bundled, the majority of consumers should not jump off the payer’s site.

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