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First Health Insurance Marketplace numbers released

Despite the well-publicized woes of HealthCare.gov and some of the 15 state-run online Health Insurance Marketplaces, 1.5 million Americans completed applications and about 106,000 selected a plan to purchase during their first month of operation. Another 396,000 have learned they are eligible for free or nearly-free coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), according to new enrollment figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The numbers tell two very clear stories,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “In every part of our country Americans are very interested in affordable coverage. And even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplaces are working and people are enrolling.”

Insurance shoppers who live in the 14 states plus the District of Columbia that chose to operate their own marketplaces are having a considerably easier time of it than those in the 36 states who must go through HealthCare.gov. They account for nearly three-quarters of applicants who have made it nearly to the end of the process by selecting a private health plan. (The only remaining step is to pay the first month’s premium, which isn’t due until Dec. 15 for plans beginning Jan. 1, 2014.)

The magnitude of the advantage is shown by the fact that the small states of Connecticut and Kentucky, whose state-run marketplaces are working smoothly, have enrolled more people in private plans than federally-run marketplaces in big states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

The numbers also show stark differences between states that have chosen to expand Medicaid to cover all low-income households and those that have chosen not to do so. Take California and Texas, two big states with high uninsured populations. In California, which is expanding Medicaid, nearly 80,000 residents applying through its state-run marketplace, Covered California, have learned they qualify for Medicaid or CHIP. In Texas, which is not expanding Medicaid, only 4,816 have qualified, presumably for CHIP, which operates in all states, or the state’s existing Medicaid programs, which have far more restrictions on income and family composition.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

—Nancy Metcalf

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.

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