While the Obama administration has decided to give extra time to some Americans to sign up for health plans through the federal insurance marketplaces, the push is still on to enroll as many people as possible.
In a bit of reprieve for consumers, federal officials said Wednesday that all consumers who have begun to enroll for coverage on HealthCare.gov, but fail to finish by the March 31 deadline, would have until mid-April to request an extension, the Washington Post reports (deadlines will vary for those who have begun enrolling through state exchanges, NewsOne has learned separately). Before that, people who failed to obtain coverage by the deadline were going to be required to wait a year for another chance to enroll and hit with a hefty tax penalty.
Consumer advocates, who would like to see as many people as possible receive insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, support the extension. But the move is likely to draw fire from Republicans who oppose the law and have criticized the administration’s handling of the process.
More than 6 million have signed up for coverage under the law, which has been plagued by complaints, including enrollment delays and technical glitches since its launch late-last year.
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NewsOne, with assistance from the Service Employees International Union, found three people who have enrolled in the insurance marketplaces. All three, who have also told their stories on the labor union’s blog, sounded a note of satisfaction.
Ebony Taylor, 25, benefited from coverage for adult children
Taylor, who plans to graduate from Bowie State University in Bowie, Md., in December, works as a security officer at Allied Barton Security Services. Since she only works part-time, she is ineligible to receive health insurance from her job. As a result, she had to pay out of pocket every time she went to the doctor, forcing her sometimes to forego annual check ups.
“It was stressful because I didn’t have the money for doctor’s visits and I had other expenses,” she told NewsOne. “Last year, for example, I had to pay $200 for a physical and I’m still paying off the bill through installments.”
She decided to investigate enrolling under her parent’s health insurance plan after overhearing co-workers discussing the provision for adult children under the Affordable Care Act. The law allows her to join her parent’s plan until age 26, which was not allowed in the past. She talked with her mom, who investigated and learned that she could, indeed, add her daughter to her job’s health care plan. “Now that I’m insured, I will be more consistent about going to the doctor and getting checkups,” Taylor said.
Taylor plans to seek a job in journalism and broadcasting, after graduation. In a year, she will no longer be eligible to stay on her parent’s plan, but she said she looks forward to enrolling in an individual plan through the insurance marketplaces.
“It’s good to know that I can look for a job and not make choices based on whether an employer offers health care,” she said.
Cecilia Fontenot, 64, enrolled despite several pre-existing conditions
Fontenot, a part-time accountant for a trucking company in Houston, suffers from hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. Because health insurance was too costly and she feared rejection because of her pre-existing conditions, she had gone without a plan since she was laid off from a job in 2008. She had worked at a credit and collections agency for seven years until the layoff.
When she heard about Healthcare.gov, Fontenot signed up in November. Like many people who enrolled at the outset of the program, she encountered technical glitches and delays. But she was undeterred. “I got lucky because I printed pages as I went along and didn’t have to do anything but call (800) 318-2596 and my enrollment was completed,” she said. The entire process took about three weeks, she recalled.
Now, Fontenot is insured, paying $301 per month, with a tax credit subsidy of $400, for a plan that she obtained through the health insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act. She now has prescription coverage for medications she takes to control diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension.
“Before enrolling, I had to rely on clinics and pay $50 per visit,” she told NewsOne. “I had to pay about $4 for each medications using a free prescription card. So far, I haven’t paid for any prescriptions under my new plan.” Fontenot has appointments for a mammogram and a women’s wellness exam. She had struggled in the past to pay for her mammograms, which cost $50. When doctors would recommend a second one, she couldn’t afford to pay another $50.
“I am very happy to have coverage now,” Fontenot said.
Jamal Lee, 43, small business owner, enrolled in a family plan
Lee, is the owner of Breasia Productions, a small production company in Laurel, Md., that provides lighting, audio and video for concerts, weddings and other events. He and his wife, Nailah, 34, and their daughter, Dasia, 12, were previously uninsured and he had to pay out of pocket for medical expenses.
“Business was good, but we could not afford health coverage,” he told NewsOne. It was difficult, he said. On several occasions, when he needed medical or dental procedures, he would fly to another country. He once flew to Panama to have dental work performed by a top-notch oral surgeon, who had trained in the United States and worked with American troops. He paid $1,500 for a range of procedures, including two root canals, a cleaning, and fillings, he said. All of that would have cost him upwards of $10,000 in the U.S., he said.
“His prices were astronomically low, but on par for the country,” he said. “I had a mini vacation in Panama. I was able to shop and do all types of things for way less than I would have paid at home.”
Still, he didn’t like going to such extremes and hoping not to become ill. Through the insurance marketplace, they were able to get a plan that costs them about $150 per month. The timing couldn’t have been better since, Nailah recently needed emergency surgery, and they had feared the cost could put them thousands of dollars in debt. Under the plan, she was able to obtain the care she needed.
As an entrepreneur, Jamal said, the new law also helps his business. In the past, the fact that he is unable to offer health insurance to employees was a turnoff to competitive prospective hires. Now he plans to use the law as a recruitment tool, letting prospective hires know that they have access to good health insurance through the federal marketplaces.
“I think it makes my company more competitive,” Lee said. “It’s a win-win.”
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