Although the deadline to sign up for an Obamacare insurance plan has officially past, the number of South Carolinians who are enrolled keeps climbing.
The S.C. Department of Insurance reported Friday that 114,789 individuals selected a plan on the federal exchange through April 15 - up from an estimate of 97,000 earlier this month.
The deadline to sign up for insurance was technically March 31, but the federal government granted an extension through mid-April to applicants who encountered any difficulty enrolling.
The newly enrolled must pay their first premium by May 1 to become insured. To date, only 67,846 of the 114,789 customers in South Carolina have done that.
"I think the truer number is the 67,846 because they have actually picked a plan and paid their premium. They are actually insured," said S.C. Insurance Director Ray Farmer.
Nearly 90 percent of residents who applied for insurance in South Carolina qualified for a federal subsidy to offset their out-of-pocket costs. Their average age was 44.
Farmer and other state insurance commissioners participated in a policy discussion Thursday with President Barack Obama at the White House.
"The National Association of Insurance Commissioners - all the commissioners collectively - had a number of concerns. We were able to express those concerns," Farmer said.
The administration discussed its opinion about how well the Affordable Care Act was working, he said.
"It was not a discussion where one side was trying to change the other side's opinion. It was more of a factual discussion," he said. "The state regulators obviously are the ones that know how insurance regulation performs best and for the federal government to be taking over certain segments of it, they need to rely on state-based regulators."
Vice President Joe Biden and outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also joined the meeting, Farmer said.
Eight million people have signed up for health care through the new insurance exchanges, and the proportion of younger applicants has increased, the president said Thursday.
Although the new figures beat initial projections by 1 million and provide some clarity about how well the exchanges performed, there are still plenty of unknowns.
Officials haven't released a tally of how many enrollees were previously uninsured and have gained health care thanks to the law. It's also unclear how many of those 8 million enrollees have yet paid their first month's premium to the insurance companies.
With an eye toward November, Obama castigated Republicans during an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room Thursday for continuing to seek out every opportunity to thwart the Affordable Care Act.
"This thing is working," Obama said.
In a sharp rebuke to his political opponents, Obama called out states that have refused to embrace an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, arguing that their opposition was rooted in nothing more than sheer ideology and political spite.
South Carolina is one of more than 20 states that decided against expanding its Medicaid program. Most of those states are also led by Republican governors.
"That's wrong. It should stop," Obama said. "Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else."
S.C. Medicaid Director Tony Keck, a member of Gov. Nikki Haley's Cabinet, said Friday the president's remarks were unproductive.
"I clearly don't think in the case of South Carolina that our decision not to expand Medicaid was done out of spite," Keck said.
Different states need different solutions, he said. South Carolina has focused on enrolling more children in Medicaid and expanding access to the health care system to residents with disabilities, he said.
"I spend lots of time at the table with people who disagree with me, but we find common ground and find ways to improve health," he said.
Haley spokesman Doug Mayer issued a statement Friday defending her decision to reject Medicaid expansion.
"The president can play politics and pretend his signature program is working, but that won't change the governor's focus on finding the state-based solutions that will actually drive down costs and make South Carolinians healthier," Mayer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
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