Angela Taylor sat across a table from Anne Fulcher and breathed a sigh of relief as Fulcher began the application that will lead to her getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Taylor, who will soon be a management trainee at a McDonald’s in Augusta, had been worried about getting enrolled before the March 31 deadline “because I have been working all the time,” she said. “I’m better now.”
As he and others in the area prepare for the onslaught of people trying to enroll before open enrollment closes, Craige Taylor-Burton knows what he will need.
“Lots of coffee,” said the enrollment specialist at Christ Community Health Services.
Officials have said all along that they expected a large number of people would wait until the last minute to try to get coverage through the new marketplaces, based on previous insurance enrollments.
In the 2012 open enrollment season for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, 22 percent made changes in the last two days, officials said earlier this month.
Enrollment through the new marketplaces reached 5 million last week, officials said, up from 4.2 million at the end of February and nearly equaling the number enrolled the previous month. Calls to the customer service center saw their highest volume since late December, when people rushed to get coverage that would begin Jan. 1.
“When there was that deadline to have your insurance start by the first (of the year), it was ridiculous with people trying to come in and get signed up,” said Candace Lee, an enrollment specialist at Christ Community. “There was that rush. I can assume there is going to be that rush again the week of and the last day. I will say that we’re going to get a lot of phone calls.”
Terri Gant of Medical Associates Plus at Belle Terrace is already seeing it.
“There is a huge number of calls that have come in for appointments,” she said. “And most of them want one-on-one appointments.”
That is part of the problem – with only a handful of navigators in the Augusta area, the number of people who need personal help might be overwhelming.
“A lot of people also think they can’t do it on their own,” Lee said. “They really think they have to come through a navigator to do so.”
That isn’t the case, Gant said.
“The clock is still ticking,” she said. “I just don’t see us being able to serve everybody. I know there’s still quite a few people who haven’t done an application.”
Many of those showing up now are younger people who are just realizing they need to have coverage and that the deadline is fast approaching, said Fulcher, a certified application counselor with Rural Health Services Inc.
“Unless they have a parent telling them about it – or hounding them, as in the case in my household – they just don’t know,” she said.
They are not getting it from the news but by one person telling another, Lee said.
“That’s how I’ve gotten most of my appointments,” she said. “The majority of the people I’ve seen is because they passed my card along to the next person. Literally, most of the appointments and the people I’ve seen have been based on word of mouth.”
It is not that young people lack for knowledge. It is more that they are using the deadline as motivation, Taylor-Burton said.
“It takes some time for young adults to become aware and actually do something about it,” he said.
Fulcher has taken that problem head-on by going out to fast-food restaurants and other places where younger adults who likely lack insurance might be working.
“I just think going where young people are makes the most sense,” she said.
Taylor-Burton plans to go to Paine College on Monday to talk to students, but the rest of the time he and Lee will be fielding calls at Christ Community and helping as many as they can.
“We want to make sure that we can give our full focus to whoever needs the services here,” he said.
In the end, because Georgia did not expand Medicaid and people who would qualify for that program are ineligible for subsidies in the marketplaces, there will be many people left wanting, Lee said.
“There’s that huge gap,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of people who fall in that gap. It is sad. I’ve had more people fall in the gap than I’ve been able to enroll, unfortunately.”
Taylor, 43, said she has never had health insurance in her life.
“I’ve heard bad things and I’ve heard some good things” about the program, she said. “A lot of people are saying it is too expensive.”
She ended up getting coverage for 48 cents a month.