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State's health insurance signups still low

PORTLAND — Days before a deadline to sign up for January health insurance coverage, only about a third of Oregonians who previously enrolled in private insurance through the state health exchange have re-enrolled through the federal website.

The state abandoned its troubled Cover Oregon portal this spring and switched to the federal site, HealthCare.gov. That means all Oregonians who bought coverage through the now-defunct state exchange must re-enroll via the federal site by Dec. 15 or face a break in coverage in January.

When they re-enroll, Oregonians can switch carriers or plans, or elect to stay with the same plan.

Previously uninsured Oregonians who qualify for federal tax subsidies must also use the federal portal to enroll if they want insurance come January. Low-income residents who qualify for Medicaid are not subject to the deadline and can enroll at any time, also through HealthCare.gov.

Cover Oregon officials said Friday only about 27,000 Oregonians had selected an insurance plan for 2015 through HealthCare.gov. About 77,000 Oregonians were enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon in 2014.

Open enrollment on the federal site runs through mid-February, but people who sign up after Dec. 15 will get coverage in February or later.

Oregon and Nevada, which also switched to the federal portal, are the only two states where all residents previously enrolled through the state exchanges must re-enroll. In other states that rely on HealthCare.gov, people who don't make a new plan selection are automatically re-enrolled in the same or similar plan for 2015.

Some of the Oregonians who have enrolled thus far via HealthCare.gov may have been previously uninsured. A study released in September showed about 200,000 Oregonians, or 5 percent of the population, remained without coverage.

Some could be people who previously had coverage through an employer, or whose income dropped, thus allowing them to purchase insurance on the exchange.

The data released Friday show an additional 18,000 Oregonians enrolled in private coverage outside HealthCare.gov. Those numbers were reported to the state by insurance carriers.

Cover Oregon officials worked to remind Oregonians to re-enroll via an ad campaign on social media and television, and have held enrollment events throughout the state.

Officials are also encouraging Oregonians to call insurance agents certified by the exchange or community partners to get enrollment help — working with them is free.

Oregonians can find additional information at www.CoverOregon.com or by calling the Cover Oregon call center at 1-855-268-3767. For help with enrollment, they can call the federal call center at 1-800-318-2596.

Residents who don't believe they qualify for a tax subsidy can buy coverage outside the exchange, directly through carriers.