Just days left before the Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment deadline

Just days left before the Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment deadline

March 27th, 2014 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

Quetta Pipkin of the Medical Foundation of Chattanooga, left, assists Paige Carlton on Wednesday during an Affordable Health Care Act enrollment event at Cleveland State Community College.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

ENROLLMENT SO FAR

The following numbers and percentages of Affordable Care Act insurance enrollments were recorded from October 2013 through February 2014:

Tennessee - 79% of 5-month target

People who have chosen a private plan* - 77,867

People found eligible for Medicaid program - 55,672

Percent of those who have chosen a private plan who are 18-34 - 25%

Georgia - 85% of 5-month target

People who have chosen a private plan* - 139,371

People found eligible for Medicaid program - 62,162

Percent of those who have chosen a private plan who are 18-34 - 28%

Alabama - 84% of 5-month target

People who have chosen a private plan* - 55,034 (84% of 5-month target)

People found eligible for Medicaid program - 17,980

Percent of those who have chosen a private plan who are 18-34 -28%

Nationwide - 75% of 5-month target

People who have chosen a private plan* - 4.2 million

People found eligible for Medicaid program -4 million

Percent of those who have chosen a private plan who are 18-34- 25%

*It is still unknown how many people have actually paid premiums needed to finish their enrollment.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, New York Times

WHAT ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE?

Monday March 31 is the last day of open enrollment for coverage in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, but it is also the deadline to buy insurance in order to avoid paying penalties under the ACA's "individual mandate" - which requires people to have health coverage.

The penalty, which will kick in when federal taxes are filed next year, will be $95 per adult and $47.50 per child (up to $285 for a family) or 1 percent of family income. The next year, it will triple.

There are some exceptions. People who do not make enough money to file federal income taxes and who can't find a health plan that costs less than 8 percent of their incomes are exempt from the mandate, along with other categories for "hardship exemption."

Approximately 20 percent of Americans are not already insured through their jobs, individually, or government programs.

Source: Healthcare.gov, Kaiser Family Foundation

DEADLINE & EXTENSION

The Obama administration is granting more time for people to apply for health care if they started the process but were unable to complete it before the Monday deadline.

Monday remains the hard deadline for enrolling in all individual plans - not just those bought through the ACA.

To complete enrollment, people must also send their first month's premium payment to the insurer.

Enrollment is not scheduled to resume until November, which means that folks need to enroll now to be covered for this year.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - In a computer lab at Cleveland State Community College, the sprint to the national health care deadline sounds like fast typing, the crackle of cellphones on speaker, and quiet-yet-direct murmurings about income and family and medical needs.

As people filed into classrooms at the college for an Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment event Wednesday afternoon, several said they hoped to get final questions answered and snafus straightened out before Monday's application deadline.

Tiffaney Adams, a 25-year-old Cleveland State student, has had bad luck signing up for personal coverage on the problematic Healthcare.gov website, and just wanted to talk with someone about it face-to-face.

She was dropped from TennCare about three years ago, and hasn't had a checkup since. But that's not what motivated her to sign up for coverage Wednesday: It was the looming penalty for being uninsured.

"I would stay uninsured because we just don't have the money," said Adams, who is her grandmother's primary caregiver. "But if it's going to cost money either way, I might as well get it."

Even as the deadline for that penalty nears, the White House announced late Tuesday that it was extending the enrollment deadline until April 15 for those who had trouble finishing an application on Healthcare.gov - a move that won praise from enrollment advocates, and criticism from Republican leaders.

But Walter Davis, executive director of the Nashville-based advocacy group Tennessee Health Care Campaign, said extension or no, the next few days are key in enrollment efforts.

"There is still going to be some panic when people realize this week that it's going to be the last few days. Everywhere we are seeing an increase in people wanting to enroll," said Davis, who was at the Cleveland event Wednesday.

At the Chattanooga-based broker American Exchange - which specializes in the Obamacare exchange - workers have been slammed with up to three times their regular call volume.

"As soon as they hang up, another call comes through," said David Yoder the newly-named CEO of American Exchange, which has sold 1,600 policies in six months.

The company recently churned up so much activity on Healthcare.gov, said Yoder, that its IP address was abruptly blocked from the federal website several days ago.

Most of the new callers are like Adams: Many want to avoid the penalty, and many are young.

Federal officials and insurance companies alike hope that a surge of such young people will sign up in these last days. That's one reason the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helped set up the enrollment event at Cleveland State.

"They are really trying to partner with colleges and universities at this point, because getting young people to sign up is a top priority," said Tracey Wright, director of special programs for Cleveland State Community College.

Getting "young invincibles"- the nickname for those in the 18-34 age bracket- to sign up for ACA is considered crucial for the program's success.

The push to attract this age bracket has intensified in the last weeks - as evidenced by White House tactics like President Barack Obama giving an interview to comedian Zach Galifinakis, and the unveiling of a BuzzFeed-like health care "March Madness bracket."

But meeting enrollment goals for this demographic has so far proven tricky.

In Tennessee and Georgia, 25 to 28 percent of the new enrollees are in that age bracket, which is the nation's average - far from the administration's 40 percent goal.

While BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has not yet released its enrollment figures, roughly a fourth of its new enrollees are 18-34, said Michael Eiselstein, director of individual product.

The company stepped up its presence online and with commercials in television slots that skew younger, like late-night TV, Comedy Central and sports programming.

The ads show a diverse spectrum of young people working benefit-less jobs like food service and construction, explaining how they found surprisingly affordable coverage.

"We wanted people to see themselves in the ads," said Ginger Pettway, BlueCross director of brand strategy, who said the ads will be in heavier rotation as the deadline nears.

As ads and outreach efforts are at a full-court press, efforts to disparage the health law and even "boycott" Obamacare are also pushing forward.

In Nashville, a billboard on Interstate 24 entering the city urges people not to enroll in Obamacare. It was paid for by the conservative group Citizens Council for Health Freedom.

While still harshly critical of the law, Republican leaders have been less vocal about discouraging people to enroll outright.

Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said eligible persons who find good coverage under Obamacare should enroll, if they choose.

"It's to everybody's advantage to have as many people enrolled as possible," Deal said. "I would much prefer that it be done through the private sector than the expansion of a welfare-type program."

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.