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Kathleen Falk, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ regional director, visited Toledo on Friday to help kick off the Obama Administration’s push to get more uninsured people signed up for health care by the March 31 deadline.
Ms. Falk, who oversees Region V, which includes Ohio, said the most recent numbers released show more than 4 million people nationwide have so far signed up for a plan in the health-care marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act. The administration had originally projected that 7 million would enroll by April 1.
“New numbers will be coming out soon,” she said. But as of the end of February, an additional 9 million people had also enrolled in Medicaid or the children’s Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act.
Unlike in December, when President Obama kept extending the date for people to sign up for coverage, March 31 will be a hard deadline, she said. “The open-enrollment period then will not open until Nov. 15 unless there is a change of circumstances,” such as getting married, divorced, or having a child, Ms. Falk said.
Most adult Americans under age 65 will be required to have health insurance by April 1 or face a fee of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income, which would be assessed when they file their 2014 federal tax returns.
The fee increases every year.
Ms. Falk and Brad Clark, director of the Neighborhood Health Association navigator program, said they are not sure if there will be a big rush lining up at events in the next 23 days. The association’s navigators took appointments Friday at the United Way building downtown and the pace was very slow. Only six appointments were scheduled with uninsured residents for the entire day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sylvania Township resident Elaine See was one of the procrastinators who met Friday with an ACA navigator. “I have been on the [Web] site a couple of times and I just got so confused, to be honest,” she said. “That’s why the other day I just sat down and said, ‘OK, I’ve got to get this done.’ I Googled help in Toledo and actually CareNet came up. I called CareNet and they told me to call 211, and that’s how I ended up here.”
Ms. See previously had health insurance through her employer, the nonprofit Sunshine group home, but she voluntarily took a part-time position to deal with family issues. “I knew I would be able to get something” because of ACA, she said. “That’s what made it easier for me to make that move that I wanted to do.”
Navigator Candice Braxton said the healthcare.gov Web site is working well now and the process is much smoother.
Ms. Braxton said more people are hearing about the navigators through television and print advertisements, while many younger people who are coming in have learned of them by word of mouth from family and friends.
The 19-to-35 age group of uninsured are the most coveted by the Obama administration because that group tends to be healthier and would avoid driving up health-care costs by using fewer resources.
In Ohio, Ms. Falk said, that younger group represents about 20 percent of the 60,000 who have enrolled in health plans. The White House is hoping for 39 percent nationwide.
The Neighborhood Health Association is planning two weeks of events. There will be a Central City Day of Action Saturday with events at the Kent and Mott branches of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
Navigators will also be available Monday, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the United Auto Workers Local 14 hall, 5411 Jackman Rd.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.