As Illinois Obamacare sign-ups jump 60%, top exec heads for exit

Crain’s Chicago Business,

By ,

As Obamacare enrollment in Illinois soars, the executive director of the Illinois agency that manages the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange is stepping aside.

Jennifer Koehler, who led the online exchange, dubbed Get Covered Illinois, for two years, has resigned. She said she is volunteering her services to the Rauner administration to ensure a smooth transition until enrollment ends Feb. 22.

“Launching and growing GCI has been a great honor,” Koehler said in a statement. “In two short years, we have created a culture of coverage across Illinois, connected over 900,000 residents to health care coverage and as a result changed many peoples’ lives for the better. . . .I leave knowing that we have laid the foundation for a healthier state for years to come.”

WHAT DROVE THE ENROLLMENT SURGE?

A more informed public and a bolstered relationship with insurance brokers helped fuel Obamacare sign-ups in Illinois, jumping 60 percent so far this year compared with last year’s debut.

“We just had more momentum going into 2015,” said Barbara Otto, CEO of Health and Disability Advocates, a Chicago nonprofit that has educated consumers about the exchange.

During 2014, the first year of the exchange, some consumers mistakenly thought that the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was only for people living in poverty, she said. But in 2015, “more and more people were hearing about friends, neighbors and others getting access to coverage.”

There was a gap in public awareness in 2014 not only in that the exchanges existed, but that subsidies were available for consumers who qualified, said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at Avalere Health, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy.

“Illinois is one of the states with the biggest increase from 2014 enrollment,” Pearson said. “In terms of having a boost this year, I think they’re definitely doing well.”

Enrollment totaled 347,300 in Illinois as of Feb. 15. Of those, an estimated 172,000 people renewed coverage in 2015 and 175,000 people are new to the exchange, according to an Avalere Health analysis of federal data.

Of the total Illinois enrollees, 81 percent are from an area that spans from west suburban Naperville to Chicago to northwest suburban Elgin, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

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