S.C. Insurance Director: Residents enrolled through Obamacare lower than federal estimate

Raymond Farmer is a former lobbyist with the American Insurance Association and is now the S.C. Insurance Department Director.

How many South Carolinians actually enrolled in a private health insurance plan through Obamacare?

It depends who you ask.

Last week, the federal government reported that more than 118,000 residents in this state enrolled in a policy between Oct. 1 and mid-April. But S.C. Insurance Department Director Ray Farmer said Tuesday the true number of people actually enrolled is much lower.

Of the 119,784 individuals in South Carolina who applied and selected a policy on the federal exchange, 85,453 - about 71 percent - paid their first month's premium by April 30, Farmer said. That was the last possible day to make that first payment. Those who didn't pay by that date aren't actually insured, he said.

Before the open enrollment period began, the estimated number of people without health insurance in the state was more than 700,000. Not everyone in South Carolina who is uninsured is required to buy a plan because some residents' income falls below the federal poverty level.

"For the most part, these numbers will stay constant," he said.

But they could vary slightly from month to month, he said, which is why the department will continue to aggregate enrollment data from the insurance companies.

For example, the number of residents insured through the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina could drop if customers choose to stop paying their monthly premiums mid-year and become uninsured as a result. It could increase if someone experiences a "qualifying life event" that allows them to enroll outside the official open enrollment period.

Those events include marriage, divorce, moving outside of your coverage area, or having a baby, among other things. But barring one of these qualifying life events, most residents must wait to sign up for a 2015 health plan until enrollment reopens in November.

A spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina said enrollment for individual insurance plans sold off the federal exchange is also closed until mid-November. Exceptions are made for customers with qualifying life events, she said.

BlueCross BlueShield, the largest private health insurance company in South Carolina, offers insurance for individuals in this state both on and off the federal marketplace.

Three other companies in South Carolina also sell Obamacare insurance policies. The S.C. Department of Insurance will not release how many policies each company sold because that data is proprietary information, Farmer said.

Last week, federal officials said 8 million people across the country signed up for an insurance policy through a federal or state-based marketplace, but they did not release an estimate for the number of new enrollees who paid their first month's premium.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.