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SD health care sign-ups pick up in November

By Chet Brokaw

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PIERRE (AP) — The number of South Dakotans signing up for a health insurance plan through a federally run marketplace has picked up substantially, but a few glitches remain, officials said Wednesday.

A report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department showed that only 372 South Dakota residents successfully signed up for a health insurance plan by Nov. 30, the end of the marketplace's first two months of operation.

The number enrolling by Nov. 30 is up from the 58 South Dakotans who had signed up a month earlier, but it's the second-fewest signups among the 36 states with federally run marketplaces under the national health care overhaul. North Dakota had the fewest at 265.

However, officials of the three insurance companies approved to offer exchange plans in South Dakota said signups have grown substantially since Nov. 30, partly because of fixes to, the website where people can buy new insurance plans. Avera Health Plans now reports enrolling 734 so far through the exchange and Sanford Health Plan has enrolled 182. DAKOTACARE, associated with the South Dakota State Medical Association, has enrolled 14.

The federal report also said the marketplace has determined that 540 people in South Dakota are eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays health care costs for people too poor to buy their own insurance.

Kim Jones, coordinator of the South Dakota Navigator Coalition, said the revamped website is much improved and now gives people a better chance to compare prices and services of different plans. But the website still does not work as smoothly as it should to sign up people from start to finish, she said.

"I'm sure there will be more improvements each day. But at this point, we still find ourselves struggling to get people enrolled in a smooth continuum," Jones said.

People seeking insurance can shop through the website, by phone, by submitting a paper application or by meeting with navigators or counselors at all community health centers, Jones said.

Ruth Krystopolski, president of Sanford Health Plan, said signups have increased, but South Dakota and the nation have a long way to go to enroll all the uninsured people who were expected to sign up. People need to enroll by Dec. 23 to get insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1, she said.

Deb Muller of Avera Health Plans said her company's employees enjoy talking with people who are signing up for insurance. One woman who had not had insurance before appeared at the Avera office on Wednesday to pay her premium for January.

"It's not a bad gig to be in right now from the standpoint of being able to talk with folks about their experiences," Muller said.