Enrollment deadline approaching for federal healthcare insurance

LaShanda Johnson, community outreach manager for Medical Associates Plus, left, helps Polly Tyler sign up for health insurance in Johnson’s office in Augusta, Ga., Monday morning December 4, 2017. MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF

It took the better part of an hour Monday morning to get Polly Tyler to the point she could begin to look at her options for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

 

“Patience is key for both parties,” said LaShanda Johnson, the community outreach manager at Medical Associates Plus in Augusta, who was helping her enroll. That included continually tapping a key to try to get the Healthcare.gov website to unfreeze, creating a new email account when the first one didn’t work and answering myriad personal questions.

Tyler, 57, who was enrolling for the first time, said “it’s worth it” to get health coverage that her two part-time jobs don’t offer.

“I know I have diabetes and high blood pressure and God knows what else,” she said. There is not much time left for others to join her.

The Trump administration chose to cut the open enrollment period in half this year so that it ends on Dec. 15, in less than two weeks. Despite the time crunch and uncertainty over the law amid attempts to repeal it, response has been steady.

As of Nov. 25, the last report put out by the administration, nearly 2.8 million people had enrolled, including more than 718,000 who, like Tyler, were enrolling for the first time. Georgia has had nearly 150,000 enroll during that period and the response has been good, said Fred Ammons, the CEO of Community Health Works, the parent company for Insure Georgia, that is helping people enroll statewide.

“We have actually seen a fairly decent uptick in enrollments versus last year,” he said. Some of that may be because of the uncertainty over the law, Ammons said.

“I suspect that some of the reason for the surge is essentially,‘Let’s get it while we can,’” he said.

It is unclear to Ammons what impact, if any, will come from the U.S. Senate’s inclusion of a repeal of the Individual Health Insurance Mandate in the tax bill passed early Saturday. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that repeal would mean 4 million more people without health insurance in 2019, climbing to 13 million more uninsured by 2027 and raising average premiums by 10 percent each year.

The House of Representatives did not include that repeal in its version of the tax bill, so it is unclear whether a final bill will contain it. As with previous efforts, there is a lot of attention paid to the repeal effort “but I don’t know that we have done as good of a job explaining that we haven’t gotten rid of it,” Ammons said.

At Christ Community Health Services, insurance navigator Monica Baldwin has already enrolled 156 people, compare to 47 last year, but is seeing less enthusiasm when she goes to churches and groups urging people to get enrolled before the deadline.

“I don’t see the eagerness with people,” she said, but she has noticed more young couples wanting to enroll and has seen people actually get better deals on their premiums.

Either way, those who want to enroll should not wait until the final deadline to act, Ammons said. Tyler is glad she didn’t wait and added, “I wish I could tell a lot of people” not to wait.

After her application was set up, it took about 10 minutes to find her a great plan, with a low deductible and low co-pays for doctor visits and medication, for about $52 a month.

“I got a very, very good deal,” Tyler said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213

or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com

Those who want to enroll in the Affordable Care Act should check out their options at Healthcare.gov. Insure Georgia will also have help available online at its web site: insurega.org or over the phone at 866-988-8246. Check the Web site for events in area counties.

Help is also available by appointment at the following locations in Augusta:

Insure Georgia Augusta Office, (478) 254-5215

Christ Community Health Services, (706) 396-1467

Medical Associates Plus, (706) 790-4440, ext.124

Medical Associates Plus will also hold an enrollment event on Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Augusta Public Library, 823 Telfair St. Insure Georgia will hold an enrollment event at the Columbia County Library on Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The deadline to enroll for 2018 is Dec. 15, and this year’s enrollment period has been cut in half from previous periods to six weeks.

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