Despite looming deadline, many still confused

Mar. 30, 2014 @ 02:23 PM

Time is running out to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

But the Obama administration on Tuesday gave Americans some extra time to finish up.

Previously, Monday was the deadline to enroll in a 2014 plan to avoid possible tax penalties. But now consumers have a bit of extra time if they try to do so through healthcare.gov but can’t quite finish.

To sign up, go to healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.

But as time runs out, here are some issues many may be encountering:


What if I need more time to buy insurance?

You must attest you tried and couldn’t use the healthcare.gov site. There’s a blue box to check off online to show you did so. Then, you have until April 7 to turn in paper applications and until April 15 to turn them in online for coverage starting May 1.


Can I bypass the website and get coverage from a private insurer after Monday?

No. While some insurance companies may sell short-term policies, they won’t meet the Affordable Care Act standards of having coverage for nine months out of the year.

The only way to get insurance after Monday’s deadline without incurring penalties is to have what they call a qualifying life event, such as a birth, new job or change in marital status.


When is the next open enrollment period?


The next enrollment period will be from Nov. 15 until Feb. 15, 2015.


How do I sign up on healthcare.gov?


Once you access the healthcare.gov website, there are several steps you must go through to obtain coverage:

First, create an account. Go to the marketplace and select your state. Provide some basic information, then choose a user name, password and security questions.

Then, complete your application. Provide information about you and your family, such as income, household members and current health coverage.

After, you must pick a plan. See all the options you qualify for, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

After you choose a plan, don’t forget to enroll online and contact your insurance company to pay your first premium by the due date.

It’s important to get started by Monday, even if you can’t complete the process that day. Julie Bataille, director of communications for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, wrote on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, “For those consumers who are in line by the March 31st deadline to complete enrollment—either online or over the phone – we’ll make sure you get covered. Just like Election Day, if you are in line when the polls close, you get to vote. We won’t close the door on those who tried to get covered and were unable to do so through no fault of their own. So, those who were in line or had technical problems with the website can quickly come back and sign up as soon as possible.”

People who have not enrolled for insurance are subject to a fine. They will also have to pay for any medical costs while they are not covered.

Where do I go if I need help locally?


If you need help in enrolling, you can receive free assistance from navigators and certified applicant counselors, who are individuals or organizations trained to help consumers, small businesses and employees look for health coverage options. They aren’t allowed to recommend a plan, but they can explain the available options, answer questions and provide help in applying.

Several organizations in the area provide enrollment assistance.

Vance County

Susan Driver and Anita Bennett are certified applicant counselors at Maria Parham Medical Center. In addition, Medassist, a private company, has two counselors working at the hospital.

To make an appointment, call Driver at (252) 436-1041 or email her at mariaparham.cac@lpnt.net. They also accept walk-ins.

“Come in the main entrance and go to the front desk,” Driver said.

They will be offering assistance from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday. “But if someone wants to come in earlier or later, call us,” Bennett said.


Granville County

Granville Health Systems also offers assistance. Scott Thomas, administrative director for human resources and communications, said nine certified applicant counselors are available. “We just got started last week and we’ve already had 30 to 50 contacts,” he said. “All they have to do is call 690-3446 and we’ll take care of them.” The area code is 919.

They will be providing enrollment assistance from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Monday.

Warren County and surrounding areas

Rural Health Group, Inc., with clinics in Henderson and Norlina, is assisting residents of Vance and Warren counties to enroll. The contact person is Denise G. Belle: telephone: (252) 536-5910; email: denise.belle@rhgnc.org.

According to Belle, Rural Health Group has received numerous requests for assistance. “It’s been very heavy, actually,” she said. “At the beginning of the month, we put on 10 additional part-time staff to handle the increase in enrollment.”

In the six counties Rural Health Group serves, the staff has provided assistance to 8,544 individuals, handled 2,398 applications and enrolled an estimated 1,391 people. “That doesn’t include the past two weeks.”

Rural Health Group serves Vance, Warren, Halifax, Franklin, Northampton and Edgecombe counties.

Individuals may also receive assistance from navigators serving Granville, Vance and Warren counties, including:

• Legal-Aid of North Carolina. Contact person: Willette Crews, telephone: (919) 688-6396; email: willettec@legalaidnc.org.

• Disability Rights. Contact person: Corye Dunn, telephone: (919) 856-2195; email: navigator@disabilityrightsnc.org

• MDC. (Warren County only.) Contact person: Tiki Windley: telephone: (919) 381-5878; email: twindely@mdcinc.org


I missed the deadline. What happens now?

Nine basic categories — ranging from poverty to being part of a special group, such as a federally recognized Indian tribe — exempt people from paying a penalty. Hardship, such as poverty or homelessness, may also qualify. If you don’t meet federal hardship standards, you’ll likely have to pay a tax penalty.

If you aren’t exempt, that’s 1 percent of adjusted household income or a flat $95 fee for adults and $47.50 per child or whichever is higher.


What if I’m still confused?


Mary Darden, adult services librarian at Richard H. Thorton Library in Oxford, said the Granville County Library System’s website contains a link to the Affordable Care Act. It can be accessed at www.granville.lib.nc.us.

A similar link is provided on the Warren County Memorial Library website at wcmlibrary.org.

Jennifer Brax, adult services librarian at Perry Memorial Library in Henderson, said the library does not have a link to healthcare.gov on its website, but she can provide help to anyone who wants to use one of the library’s public computers. “

We have people who come in and say, ‘Can you get me on the website?’” Brax said. “We are ready to help.”


Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.