Special enrollment set for shut-out workers

 

CLEARWATER — In just minutes, Anne Fulcher of Rural Health Services Inc. had flown through creating an account for Pamula Burns on the healthcare.gov Web site when Burns asked her a question: Is this part of Obamacare?

“It’s formally called the Affordable Care Act,” said Fulcher, a public relations and enrollment specialist, and it might be a better deal for Burns and her husband, Jerry.

After 36 years at the AGY plant in Aiken, Jerry and hundreds of others were shut out at the beginning of the month when their union could not reach a contract agreement with the glass fiber manufacturing plant’s operator. Their health insurance also ended then, which is how he and his wife can now apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

Though the open enrollment period formally ended March 31 and will not begin again until Nov. 15 for 2015, there is a Special Enrollment Period for people who encounter certain life-changing events in the meantime, such as losing a job and coverage, moving to a new state, getting married, having a baby or getting divorced. Burns and his co-workers now have 60 days from the time they lost coverage to enroll in a new plan through the health law, Fulcher said.

In previous years, their only option might have been to continue coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act law, known as COBRA, which is only for a limited time and is often expensive. In the case of the Burns family, it would be $820 a month for Burns and his wife.

When Fulcher took a preliminary look, one Blue Cross Blue Shield Silver plan would run about $130 a month apiece with a $200 deductible, compared to their current $900 deductible. Fulcher could not find their doctor’s office on the provider list but thought the office might be in negotiations.

“It won’t do us any good if we can’t go to the doctor,” Pamula Burns said.

“If they took your (previous) Blue Cross Blue Shield, more than likely they will take this,” Fulcher said.

Burns said he has not heard whether there has been any progress in negotiations, and Teamsters Local Union No. 509 did not return a call Monday. The company said in an e-mail, “There is no additional information available at this time.”

Jerry Burns has not given up on it.

“I hope we can come back if we can come to an agreement,” he said.

Even so, the insurance they were looking at Monday is a better deal because they have to pay more than $100 a week to add his wife to the insurance through the plant, Pamula Burns said.

“If it works out, we may want to keep it even if they do go back to work,” she said.

AGY workers protest in front of Aiken plant
Aiken AGY protest underway
ARE YOU QUALIFIED?

If you feel you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act because of a life-altering event, such as losing a job, getting divorced or having a baby, and would like help to enroll, contact Anne Fulcher at Rural Health Services Inc. in Clearwater. You can reach her at (803) 593-0621 or (803) 226-1545 or AFulcher@ruralhs.org.

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