During October and November, more than 74,000 Pennsylvanians completed applications for insurance in the health insurance marketplace. Nearly 12,000 have finalized the enrollment process by selecting a health plan, according to the Department of Health and Human Services December Marketplace Enrollment Report.

Pennsylvania is one of 27 states that chose not to create its own exchange; residents access the marketplace through the federal Healthcare.gov website, which suffered a host of technical problems when it launched on October 1, making shopping for health insurance, selecting and paying for a plan, a frustrating experience for users.

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Many of the website’s problems have been resolved, but Pennsylvania has some catching up to do with 1.4 million residents in the state lacking health insurance. Pennsylvania is not aggressively promoting the health care exchange. Residents seeking information about health insurance and their new options under the Affordable Care Act have to do some digging through the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance website to find information.

The Department’s PA Health Options website includes the federal health insurance marketplace as an option for residents seeking insurance. The Healthcare.gov website is listed as the “Federally-Facilitated Marketplace (FFM),” and is contrasted with “Private Insurance,” which could lead consumers to believe plans offered in the exchange are government insurance programs, not plans offered by private insurers.

A chart on the PA Health Options site that compares features of plans purchased on the exchange to plans purchased outside the exchange notes that buying insurance through the FFM requires government verification of personal information. The comparison neglects to inform consumers that insurance company verification of personal information would be required when buying insurance directly from an insurance company.

Although the website claims to be a source of unbiased information, it does seem to be a deliberate attempt at driving Pennsylvanians away from the exchange by playing on fears of government snooping.

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Pennsylvania is not expanding Medicaid eligibility, an option states have under the Affordable Care Act. Childless adults in the Keystone state are ineligible for Medicaid; parents that head a family of four are eligible if their monthly household income is $648 or less. HHS reports that nearly 6,800 Pennsylvania new applicants in the exchange have been determined eligible for the state’s Medicaid program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the number of uninsured in Pennsylvania would be reduced by 613,000 if the state moved to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level as many other states have done.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans must have health insurance by April 1, 2014 to avoid a penalty. Consumers that seek insurance effective January 1, 2014 have until December 23 to enroll in a plan. Open enrollment continues through March 31, 2014.

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Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

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