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Health Insurance Deadline Nears
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The head of the national health insurance exchange is spreading the word that this year’s enrollment deadline is coming fast. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports on his recent visit to Missisippi. CEO Kevin Counihan says more than 94,000 Mississippians have signed up for health coverage since open enrollment began.

"We know that people tend to be - unfortunately like me personally - which is that they procrastinate, we know that they tend to wait until the last minute to enroll, so we're expecting a big, big surge in the next few weeks, before the end of the month," he says.

Counihan says enrollments are tracking just above where they were last year - and to a younger demographic. He says those younger enrollees could help with one of the issues some in Mississippi are finding – namely, a small number of insurance providers, which seems to have contributed to large increases in premiums in some places.

"Insurance companies want to see a refreshed risk pool," he says. "They want to see that things are tracking to get younger and healthy people into that pool. We're doing that. 

"We want insurance companies to figure out that this profitable for them, it's attractive for them. We want them to duke it out in the marketplace and provide the best value for the consumer."

Michael Minor is with Get Covered Mississippi, a statewide network offering enrollment assistance at about 25 sites. 
He says premium changes have varied throughout the state. But, in general, he says the sign-up process itself is going much more smoothly.

"The website is working quicker, the response time has been better, the tools they have available," he says. "We started in 2013, so it's like night and day difference. People have really been pleased about the level of service."

One other change this year: the penalties for not having insurance will increase: "In 2016, the penalty is now a minimum of $695 per person, or 2.5 percent of household income. So, for example, if you have a household income of $50,000, that would equate to about $1,250," Counihan says. "You can exempt out of that penalty for affordability, religious affiliation, other kinds of things. But we just want to make sure everybody's aware that that penalty is out there."