When Anne Fulcher hits a local McDonald’s restaurant, she’s usually not there for a burger and fries – she’s there to enroll young workers in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
As officials announced total enrollment had eclipsed 4.2 million by the end of February, a greater percentage are younger – and on Tuesday the enrollment Web site was getting a boost from a funny interview with President Obama.
The numbers are starting to have an impact, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted, with the rate of uninsured dropping from 17.1 percent in the fourth quarter of last year to 16 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to a Gallup survey.
“This wasn’t a coincidence or something that just happened on its own,” she said. “What we’re finding is that as more Americans learn just how affordable (Health Insurance) Marketplace insurance can be, more are signing up to get covered.”
That is expected to accelerate as the March 31 deadline for open enrollment approaches, officials said. Fulcher, a certified application counselor with Rural Health Services Inc. who has been helping people in both Augusta and Aiken counties, said they have been “swamped.” With her work and personal cell phone and her office phone, “they’re all three ringing plus e-mail,” she said. “You can definitely tell the push is on.”
Based on the way past enrollments have gone in health care plans, many people wait until the last minute, officials said. They “use the deadline as an action-forcing event,” said Julie Bataille, director of the Office of Communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She said they expected to enroll “millions more Americans by the end of the month” but would not commit to an actual goal.
Sebelius noted the percentage of younger people enrolling increased, with more than a third of those signing up in February younger than 35 and the cumulative percentage of those 18-34 who have enrolled increased to 25 percent from 24 percent for the first three months. Rural Health Services has assisted 2,000 people at this point and signed up more than 1,000, Fulcher said. In her outreach to fast food workers and a day care, many of the workers who signed up have been under age 35.
“We’ve been very successful,” she said.
On Tuesday, a video of Obama being interviewed by actor Zach Galifianakis on the Funny or Die Web site about several topics including the Affordable Care Act prompted 19,000 people to then click onto the healthcare.gov enrollment Web site and seek more information, Bataille said.
“It’s today’s highest source of individual traffic referrals to healthcare.gov,” she said. “We are certainly encouraged by the number of individuals who have seen that video and then took a step to learn more information at healthcare.gov.”