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Advocates, navigators and officials are urging Montana residents who still need to sign up for healthcare that Saturday is the last day to purchase a plan for most citizens during the “open enrollment” period. Already, the Montana healthcare marketplace has seen a 10 percent increase above last year, and with a week to go, it should set a new high mark for number of Montanans registered, with more than 50,000.

Olivia Riutta, with the Montana Primary Care Association, said the changes in the American Rescue Plan helped make the insurance even more affordable, and residents have responded to more reasonable pricing through the state’s three primary carriers – Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Mountain Health Co-op and Pacific Source.

Residents have until 2:59 a.m. Mountain on Sunday (technically the deadline is Saturday at 11:59 p.m., for all states, including Hawai’i) to select a healthcare plan that meets their needs. In the middle of December, the federal government said that 13.8 million Americans had signed up.

Montana Primary Care Association navigators are also available to help with enrollment before the deadline, including public events in some Montana locations.

Riutta said it’s important that people learn more through trusted sites to buy plans that cover basic care and in which some citizens may get tax credits. That can be done through www.healthcare.gov

Residents who need more information or may need assistance can go to www.covermt.org – where navigators can help guide people through information, including a healthcare calculator, health insurance basics, and getting a guide to help through the enrollment process. Cover Montana navigators are also available in Billings, Bozeman, Helena, Browning, Kalispell and Missoula. The Cover Montana Help line (844-682-6837) is also open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., this week and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, the final day of enrollment.

“It’s exciting to see 5,000 more people participate than last year,” Riutta said.

She said one of the reasons for the uptick may be that ARPA legislation increased the affordability but also mandated that insurance plans through the exchange cover the 10 most frequent ways patients interact with healthcare, including emergency room visits, maternity and pregnancy and the emergency room.

“It’s about affordability – everyone wants healthcare and the peace of mind that comes with,” Riutta said. “A lot of people have been surprised how affordable it is.”

In other ways, Riutta said, the healthcare exchange has become better understood and better trusted, leading more people to look through their options.

“A lot of people changed jobs and careers during the past two years, and they may be with companies that don’t have an employer-sponsored program – we see a lot of them coming,” Riutta said. “And if there’s anything we’ve learned during the past two years, it’s the need for health insurance.”

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