Colorado Obamacare enrollment about half of worst-case estimates

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Colorado’s Obamacare exchange has enrolled just about half of its worst-case scenario projections, with state leaders blaming public disinterest.

Just 6,001 Colorado residents have signed up for private insurance in the state-run exchange as of Connect for Health Colorado’s last announcement on Nov. 18, but The Denver Post reports Monday that the lowest enrollment estimate officials had made for mid-November was 11,108.

The highest projection came in at 30,944, while an estimate of average enrollment was 20,186 after one and a half months of open enrollment.

Internal emails between the exchange’s board members warn that the drastically low enrollment figures could compromise Connect for Health Colorado’s “ability to deliver on promises made to Colorado citizens.”

While the number of private-insurance sales is lower than Colorado officials ever estimated, Medicaid enrollments are much higher than private plans, as is the case in most states around the country. The number of taxpayer-funded insurance plans in Colorado — which did accept the Medicaid expansion — is at 47,309, according to exchange officials.

Many Colorado officials believe the low enrollment isn’t due to poor performance, though — instead, they argue, Colorado residents just aren’t interested.

Exchange board member Dr. Mike Fallon said “None of this surprises me… I don’t know what we as a board could have done. Health insurance is a difficult product to sell.”

While Colorado’s exchange website experienced some glitches, as did most, its launch was nowhere near as catastrophic as the national HealthCare.gov site’s. The exchange’s executive director, Patty Fontneau, is even asking for a raise.

Fontneau is currently paid $190,550 and received a bonus last December. Despite the low enrollment, she’s received support from Colorado lawmakers — even those that don’t support the Affordable Care Act.

Republican Colorado state Rep. Bob Gardner opposed Obamacare and was “at best ambivalent” about the Colorado law authorizing the state exchange, but had glowing remarks about Fontneau’s performance.

“I have been incredibly pleased with the work that you have done,” Gardner said during an oversight hearing Friday. “Our system does seem to be working.”

Though exchange officials may be doing the best they can, high enrollment is necessary to keep the marketplace going. Most insurance marketplaces, while launched with federal grants and state funding, will be partially funded long-term by fees placed on each private insurance sale.

Colorado will need to sell policies to cover 136,300 residents with private insurance in 2014 to pay its share of just $6.5 million towards the exchange’s total $51.4 million cost next year, according to The Denver Post, but the numbers so far aren’t inspiring.

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