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More Nevadans signing up on state’s health insurance exchange

More than 22,500 Nevadans have signed up for health insurance on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange, up 40 percent over the same period last year, data released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows.

“We believe Nevadans are getting the message to get connected to affordable health insurance,” Janel Davis, spokeswoman for the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, said in an email. At this time last year, 16,000 had enrolled.

The increase is magnified because the open enrollment period was shortened from 90 days last year to 45 this year.

Nonetheless, it has calmed concerns among state health care officials that sign-ups would plunge amid uncertainty over the future of the ACA.

Silver State Exchange Executive Director Heather Korbulic said it’s unclear whether the trend will continue in the remaining three weeks of open enrollment.

“We’ve always had a significant push at the end of open enrollment,” Korbulic said. “I’m thinking around the deadline, we’ll hopefully see our traditional spike. But again, we only have 45 days and we have consumers who aren’t getting subsidies and see it’s unaffordable.”

The increased enrollment mirrors a surge in call volume reported by the state exchange since open enrollment began Nov. 1. Calls to health insurance counselors, called navigators, increased 133 percent from last year in the first week of enrollment, but leveled off at about 40 percent higher in the last week.

State officials worried before enrollment began that congressional efforts to repeal the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, would confuse Americans into thinking enrollment was canceled. They also worried the Trump administration’s cutoff of subsidies for participating insurers would cause premiums to soar.

But if anything, the uncertainty seems to have heightened interest.

In anticipation of the cut to cost-sharing reductions, insurers nationwide, including Nevada’s, hiked premiums on so-called silver plans and relied on another subsidy, called advance premium tax credits. That had the net effect of bringing down the cost for low-income consumers.

Those who make above $40,000, or 400 percent of the federal poverty level, however, won’t qualify for subsidies on an exchange plan and will face steep premium hikes.

Open enrollment ends Dec. 15, 45 days earlier than in previous years. Wednesday’s numbers represent roughly 40 percent of the enrollment period.

Because of the shorter sign-up period, the increase in Nevada’s ACA signups appears steeper than it is. At the 40 percent mark in open enrollment last year — which covered three more weeks than this year — 15,000 more customers had enrolled.

Nationwide, 2.3 million have enrolled in a plan through the federal healthcare.gov exchange, which powers Nevada’s exchange and those of 38 other states. A quarter of those are new customers, according to the federal data.

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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