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Interactive Map: Obamacare Health Coverage Climbing in New Jersey

New signups through federal marketplace account for almost half of New Jerseyans with health insurance in latest enrollment period

The number of people signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's federal health insurance marketplace rose in every ZIP code in New Jersey this year, according to new U.S. government data.

Information released earlier this month by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also indicates that close to half of New Jerseyans seeking Obamacare in the enrollment period ending February 22, 2015 were new customers. In Cape May, for instance, 39 percent of 3,104 people got health insurance through the ACA for the first time, while in Hudson County, 54 percent of 19,222 people were new enrollees.

And more than three-quarters of New Jersey's newly insured are getting help to pay for their coverage, regardless of where they live, the data shows. In Mercer, Morris, and Somerset counties, 79 percent of those enrolling in the most recent period qualified for advanced-payment tax credits that can cut the cost of their premiums, while almost nine in 10 enrollees in Atlantic and Cumberland counties got APTCs. Those who qualify, due to their incomes, use the credits to cover a portion of their premiums and, if there is any money left over, can claim the rest on their income tax returns.

Nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 80 percent of enrollees qualified for a credit. The average APTC totaled $263 per month and covered about 72 percent of the gross insurance premium for those who qualified.

In all, 254,316 New Jerseyans signed up for coverage through between November 15, 2014 and February 22, 2015, with 23 percent of those re-enrolling automatically. They represent about 3 percent of 8.8 million Americans in 37 states getting insurance through the federal marketplace. The remaining states set up their own marketplaces and enrolled 2.8 million people. The total signed up by the end of the 2015 open-enrollment period was about 58 percent higher than the number enrolled during 2014's open enrollment.

At the local level, the increased enrollment is reflected in every one of the more than 500 ZIP codes for which CMS released information; it withheld figures for those zip codes with fewer than 50 enrollees due to privacy concerns. Thirty-five areas that had no data reported last year, including wealthy zips in Stone Harbor, Mountain Lakes and Far Hills, had more than 50 sign up this time around.

The smallest increase was 3.8 percent for Vauxhall, 07008, in Union County, while the largest was the Lakewood 08701 zip code, where the number of enrollees rose by 150 percent between the 2014 and 2015 periods. That Lakewood area also had the most people selecting a plan -- 2,469.

While advocates find the increases encouraging, the data thus far released by CMS does not tell an important part of the story: How many are no longer uninsured.

"We do know that the uninsurance rate is going down sharply largely because of ACA, but studies on the extent of decrease in New Jersey have varied widely, no doubt due to small sample size," said Raymond Castro, a senior policy analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank. "Neither the federal government nor the state have released data on the number of people who were uninsured at the time of applying for insurance through Medicaid or the exchange."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing 1.1 million New Jerseyans were without health insurance in 2013, just before the first ACA enrollment period opened. The uninsured represented 15 percent of all those under age 65.

But even if some of those enrolling through the marketplace previously had insurance, that is not bad news.

"Of course the fact that many people who had insurance before are getting new insurance through the ACA is also positive because they were probably not able to afford their old insurance," Castro said.

Under the ACA, or Obamacare, all Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine each year. Obama signed the law in 2010, but the provision mandating individual insurance did not take effect until last year. The amount of the fine is to increase to 2.5 percent of income, or $695, whichever is greater, next year.

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