Glitches, Hope Mark ACA Sign-Up Deadline Day

Mar 31, 2014

Andrew Behrman, President and CEO, Florida Association of Community Health Centers

The glitches plaguing healthcare.gov on the last day of open enrollment haven't stopped people from at least starting the process before the clock strikes midnight.

At the Florida Association of Community Health Centers’ office Monday, Diane Smerling and her certified application counselor Ben Browning, are fighting with healthcare.gov.

"We’re having fun with frozen computers," Smerling says as she and Browning  try to activate her username and password. The website, however, keeps going down. So, as they wait for it to come back up, Smerling begins to talk about why she’s waited until the last day to sign up for health insurance.

“I wasn’t understanding the website, and I didn’t realize I could have an in-person appointment until last week, and situations have changed—my living situation. That’s why," she says.

Smerling retired early from her job with the state of Florida and is now uninsured. She could have extended her state health insurance plan, but she says that would have drained her savings.

“I can’t take the risk of having my retirement funds depleted based on once incident. And also, compared to COBRA, there is no way. I was told it was going to be $600 a month, for me," she says.

She’s now looking at healthcare.gov, where she’d pay an estimated $169 a month for family coverage.  Still high, but better than paying the $600 COBRA cost. As a certified application counselor, Browning has been trying to guide Smerling and others through the enrollment process. He admits it’s a bit challenging, with the website on the fritz, but it’s worth it:

“It’s been pretty hectic the past few days, I’ve been answering questions for months," he says. "Everyone has their own situation, and it’s just a matter of being able to walk through the process and have the patience to make it through to the end and get covered so when that thing does happen, you’re able to afford it and you don’t have to file for bankruptcy.” 

The federal government has already extended the deadline for people who start, but don’t complete enrollment before midnight Monday.  Florida Association of Community Health Centers President and CEO Andrew Behrman says the increased traffic on the last day of open enrollment is contributing to the hiccups, but he’s optimistic about numbers showing Florida has been a national leader when it comes to ACA enrollments, surpassing 440,000 at the beginning of the month.

“That’s a good sign," Behrman says, "That shows the need is there, that people are trying to get enrolled and sign on and our job is to help them any way possible.”

He's looking at data that he says shows about 87 percent of the more than six million people who have signed up for insurance through healthcare.gov have paid their first-month premiums. That means their insurance is active. But even after Monday, when the time for people to sign up for health insurance and avoid financial penalties is over, there will still be about 40 million Americans, some three million of them living in Florida, without insurance. Many of those remaining uninsured would have qualified for Medicaid under the health law’s optional eligibility expansion. But Florida is one many states that hasn’t taken the federal Medicaid expansion money.  Behrman’s still hopeful, though:

“This is a glass half-full . We have to fill the rest of it. But we need help. We need states to understand the value of this and the value of this  is not about money. It’s about coverage of people. Period.” 

And he says, even after Monday’s deadline, his certified application counselors, will still be on the job, helping people enroll.

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