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More than 7,000 in W.Va. seek coverage under ACA

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- About half of the more than 7,000 West Virginians who have applied for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act are eligible for government insurance programs.

Figures released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services show 7,096 West Virginians applied for health coverage through the federal government's website from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2. Of that total, about 3,100 were eligible for coverage either through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

About 3,400 people were eligible for private health coverage. From Oct. 1 to Nov. 12, 198 West Virginians had enrolled in private health coverage, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield said Wednesday in a news release. The company is the only private insurer participating in West Virginia's health insurance marketplace.

"There is an urgent need to improve the functionality of the federal marketplace as soon as possible to ensure that consumers have enough time to enroll by Dec. 15, 2013 for the earliest effective date of Jan. 1, 2014," Highmark said in the release.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told media outlets that problems with the federal government's website could hurt the entire insurance market.

People who have significant health problems will enroll no matter what it takes. If healthier people are deterred from enrolling, there would be a sicker population to insure, which could mean higher premiums, Bryant said.

He said that the process has to be made easier for healthier people to enroll.

"This has the potential to have a serious long-term impact on the marketplace," Bryant said, "and it's a real concern."

Nationwide, 26,794 people enrolled for health insurance during the federal website's first month of operations. More than 79,000 people in 14 states with their own websites enrolled, bringing the nationwide number to 106,000. That was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected — and a small fraction of the millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law.

The deadline to sign up for insurance that would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, is Dec. 15. People have until the end of March to sign up for insurance for 2014 and avoid the penalty of $95, or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.