Arizonans go for the gold - and platinum - in the health-care marketplace

Arizona residents are not rushing to sign up for health insurance under ”Obamacare,” but those who have signed up have enrolled in the pricier insurance plans at twice the rate of the rest of the nation, new data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows. (Cronkite News Service photo by John Genovese)

Arizona residents are not rushing to sign up for health insurance under ”Obamacare,” but those who have signed up have enrolled in the pricier insurance plans at twice the rate of the rest of the nation, new data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows. (Cronkite News Service photo by John Genovese)

WASHINGTON - Arizona residents are signing up for the Affordable Care Act's top-shelf gold- and platinum-level insurance plans at some of the highest rates in the nation, new government figures show.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported this week that 41 percent of Arizonans who had enrolled under Obamacare by Dec. 28 had signed up for the gold or platinum plans. That compares to a national average of about 20 percent for those two plan levels.

The state's residents are leaning toward the higher-priced plans even though they have been relatively lukewarm in general when it comes to enrolling for health care under the ACA.

The 27,943 Arizonans who were enrolled on Dec. 28 represent about 0.43 percent of the state's 6.55 million residents, compared to a national enrollment rate of about 0.69 percent, according to the HHS data.

Pati Urias said affordability might be one reason Arizona residents are opting for the upper-end plans.

"Our plans are priced cheaper," said Urias, the Arizona communications lead for Enroll America, a nonprofit that helps people sign up for health coverage available under the ACA.

Urias said Pima County has some of the lowest-cost policies in the country for health insurance plans. She added that competition is a huge factor, noting that some Arizonans have more than 100 plans they can choose from.

David Aguirre, health marketplace coordinator for the Greater Phoenix Urban League, said he could not point to any one reason for people selecting gold- or platinum-level plans. But he speculated that subsidies that are provided based on income and family size might make the higher-level plans affordable for some.

The HHS report, released Monday, said that Arizona had the lowest rate of individuals getting a subsidy for their insurance plan - at 68 percent - among states like Arizona where the insurance marketplaces are run or supported by the federal government.

Urias said the number of people in Arizona who qualify for financial assistance could have been reduced by the state's relatively low premiums. But she noted that two-thirds of individuals enrolled is still a significant number.

Despite the higher initial cost, Urias said a gold- or platinum-level plan can help save money in the long run for people with recurring medical needs, because it provides more comprehensive coverage. Gold-level plans pay for 80 percent of covered costs, and platinum-level plans pay for 90 percent of covered costs.

The majority of individuals nationally - and 48 percent of Arizonans - selected silver-level plans, which pay for 70 percent of covered costs. But those plans come with lower premiums than gold- and platinum-level plans.

Only Massachusetts, North Dakota, Kentucky and the District of Columbia had higher shares of high-end plan purchasers than Arizona. In the District, 49 percent of enrollees opted for a gold or platinum plan, while 44 percent in Massachusetts did so and 42 percent of Kentuckians did.

North Dakota does not offer a platinum plan, but 44 percent of enrollees there opted for the top plan, gold.

In addition to platinum, gold and silver, the insurance marketplaces offer low-cost bronze-level plans, which cover 60 percent of costs, and bare-bones catastrophic coverage.

By Dec. 28, a total of 27,943 Arizonans had enrolled for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a slower rate than other states. But those Arizonans who did sign up were much more likely to sign up for a top-notch plan than other Americans:

- Platinum plan enrollment: 21 percent in Arizona; 7 percent in U.S.

- Gold plan enrollment: 20 percent; 13 percent

- Silver plan enrollment: 60 percent; 48 percent

- Bronze plan enrollment: 11 percent; 20 percent

Arizonans chose the costlier plans even though they were less likely to get a subsidy to help pay for it:

- With assistance: 68 percent in Arizona; 79 percent in U.S.

- Without assistance: 32 percent; 21 percent







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