The last-minute rush has begun.
Local health-care “navigators” were slammed at events to sign up the uninsured in the Affordable Care Act marketplace during the final full week of the enrollment period last week, said Brad Clark, director of the Neighborhood Health Association navigator program.
The official enrollment deadline had been midnight Monday. But the Obama Administration announced last week that because of high demand on the healthcare.gov Web site and the federal 800 phone line, those who at least begin the enrollment process by Monday’s deadline will be given until mid-April to complete the process and will not be penalized.
Most American adults 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 2014 taxes.
“With this new extension we are just concentrating on getting people set up with an initial account, so they have a record. Then we can go back post March 31 and finish up the application,” Mr. Clark said.
He said people were still standing in line waiting for help at the end of each of the four big sign-up events the navigators hosted this past week.
To sign up for an insurance plan in the Affordable Care Act marketplace:
■ Go to www.healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.
■ Monday: Navigator event at the Main Library downtown from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Huntington Room.
■ To make appointments in Lucas, Erie, Sandusky, and Wood counties, call 419-214-0043 (Monday-Friday, 9-5 p.m.).
■ For schedule information and to make appointments in other northwest Ohio counties, call 1-800-648-1176.
Navigators will be available Monday at the Main Library downtown from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Huntington Room.
“We are telling people calling the hotline that no matter where you go there is going to be a wait,” Mr. Clark said.
Jan Ruma, executive director of CareNet, said she would like to see the Obama Administration extend the enrollment deadline until the end of this year.
“I think that this is a huge monumental change, and change takes time,” Ms. Ruma said.
CareNet also oversees a small group of navigators — four part-time workers — who have been signing up residents in several counties across northwest Ohio.
There were problems with the Web site and “the weather has not helped, so it feels like this is just getting rolling now and they are going to shut it down,” she said.
Mr. Clark said many of the procrastinators who have waited until the last few days to sign up are young people. “They are being dragged to the sign-up events by their parents,” he said.
Tara Sharlow, 29, of Toledo is unemployed and no longer eligible to be on her parent’s insurance plan. She attended a navigator sign-up event at the East Toledo Family Center last week because her mother saw President Obama on a late-night television show last week.
“And he was saying, ‘What you need to do uh moms is get your 25-to-30-year-old kids down there and get ’em signed up,’ and so that’s why I’m here. I like Obama,” said her mother, Mary Sharlow.
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The Obama Administration announced late last week that enrollments had passed a crucial benchmark of 6 million people.
Now the question is whether the administration can get to its original goal of 7 million people signed up before the marketplace closes.
Critics have questioned the figures being released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and noted that signing up for coverage is just one step in the process. The real test is how many of the newly enrolled will pay their first month’s premium.
Mr. Clark said that as of March 21, the Neighborhood Health Association enrolled 5,000 people from Lucas, Wood, Sandusky, and Erie counties in insurance plans. He believes that number will surpass 6,000 by Monday, but he has no way to track if those people have actually paid their insurance premiums.
“Our agents are telling us that probably 80 to 90 percent of their clients are paying the first month’s premium,” said Kathy Lee, president of a group of more than 600 insurance agents across Ohio.
Ms. Lee, who is also an account manager for Medical Mutual, said that overall many agents are still frustrated with the performance of the federal Web site and they are pushing to have a dedicated phone line that will help them process clients faster.
An independent agent in Ms. Lee’s group, David Spiess, said many of his Toledo clients who have enrolled in health-care plans are not the uninsured who were the original target of the law.
“I would say about half of the people I have processed already had health insurance and all I did was reprocess them so instead of paying the whole thing, the government is subsidizing it,” Mr. Spiess said.
He added that many of his clients are shopping because their private insurance plans were canceled for not meeting the guidelines established by the Obama Administration. He said his higher income clients who do not qualify for subsidies or tax breaks are getting “hammered.”
“I believe there are some good provisions in the law. We are still trying to understand and process the unintended consequences of this. I think the entire industry was ill-prepared to take on this monumental task,” he said.
He is convinced that one of those consequences is going to be higher insurance premiums for everyone in the coming years, even for people who currently have employer-sponsored health plans.
Mr. Speiss said he was hired by two local companies to help their employees find new health plans after they found it more cost-effective to drop coverage.
“I have an employer of approximately 20 people, an expediter firm that moves cargo around the region, that is dropping its group plan as of May 1,” he said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.