Nearly 19,000 Columbus residents enrolled in marketplace

With a week to go before the Jan. 31 deadline, a federal agency said nearly 19,000 Columbus-area residents are among the nearly 536,000 Georgians to enroll for health-care coverage -- or have it renewed automatically -- through HealthCare.gov.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it expects interest in the health-care coverage to increase as the deadline approaches. Still, the agency's secretary, Sylvia Burwell, said there is "more work to do" to make certain consumers are enrolled.

"We're focused on making sure consumers understand that they must act soon to find affordable health coverage and avoid the fee for choosing to not have health insurance in 2016," she said in a statement.

Open enrollment through the Health Insurance Marketplace launched Nov. 1. Those who squeeze into the Jan. 31 deadline will be insured effective March 1, the department said. Those refusing to enroll could face a fine of $695 or more under the law passed by Congress, it said.

The agency is urging anyone without coverage through an employer or other private insurer to visit HealthCare.gov and compare plans, while also seeing if they are eligible for financial assistance to lower monthly premiums.

An agency report said about 85 percent of Georgians enrolled through the marketplace have been eligible for a tax credit averaging $291 per month. That equates to about 73 percent of the pre-tax credit premium. Those going online to reenroll in the marketplace this year also have saved an average of $47 per month, or nearly $600 a year, after the tax credits, it said.

Those who enrolled by late December found plans in which they have to pay $106 a month after the tax credits, the department said, although nearly 60 percent of enrollees have had "the option" of choosing insurance coverage as low as $50 monthly after the financial assistance.

"People coming to the marketplace for coverage are active, engaged and shopping to save money," Burwell said.

Atlanta, naturally, has had the largest number of enrollees thus far with just over 405,000, while there have been 44,633 in Savannah, 30,659 in Augusta, 21,651 in Macon and 15,452 in the Albany area.

Nationally, the enrollment total is about 8.8 million.