By Matt Schury
If you need health care coverage and you are still struggling with the Affordable Care Act’s website, there is some good news. You still have time to sign up for coverage on the open market and the Kendall County Health Department can help.
Richard Larson, an ACA counselor at the Kendall County Health Department, said they are shifting from informational meetings to community events where he and staff help people one-on-one to sign up for coverage through the marketplace or Medicaid.
The next community enrollment event will be held Monday, Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Oswego Public Library District’s Montgomery campus, 1111 Reading Dr., Montgomery.
“We’ll sit there and go through the application process and hopefully you can walk away with health insurance,” he said.
People can also get enrollment help each Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon at the Health Department, 811 W John St, Yorkville.
The open enrollment period for the ACA has not ended. The federal government has extended the deadline to purchase insurance through March 31.
If you don’t have insurance and don’t sign up before March 31 you will have to pay a penalty, which is about $95 per person if you didn’t have coverage for the entire year, Larson says.
The $95 is then pro-rated based on the number of months in 2014 someone didn’t have coverage, which comes to about $7.92 cents a month. For instance if you didn’t have coverage for six months in 2014, when you go to file you taxes for that year in 2015, you put down that you didn’t have coverage for six months and they will assess you half the penalty—or about $47, Larson explains.
The federal government has not yet reported the number of people who have signed up at the municipal or county level.
However, Larson has been keeping tabs locally on how many people the Health Department has helped. Since November he reports that 11 people have completed applications for purchasing health insurance through the online market place. Another 31 people completed applications to sign up for Medicaid. He notes that more people started applications and finished them at home.
Additionally 155 people made appointments for help signing up for health care. Larson notes that the department held 10 informational presentations that were attended by 114 people and they have received 214 calls from people asking questions or seeking appointments.
Statewide in Illinois 61,111 people have signed up for insurance on the open marketplace, according to a report issued this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report documents those that signed up for health care from Oct. 1 through Dec. 28.
Of those plans selected most, 52 percent, were “silver plans” while just one percent were platinum plans that have the highest premiums and lowest deductibles available.
The report also shows 73 percent of those that signed up purchased the plan with financial assistance from the government.
Illinois had 158,123 total marketplace applications completed, the report shows, with most, 155,279, eligible to enroll in a plan and 85,370 eligible for financial assistance. Of those applications, about 82,286 were assessed as eligible for Medicaid.
Those who signed up for coverage tended to be between 18 and 34 years old or 55 to 64 years old, the report shows. Larson says he has seen the same thing among the people they have signed up so far.
“I’ve had a few younger kids that are living at home or are college students and they need the coverage,” he said. “I have had a few who are very close to Medicare and they want coverage just for maybe six months before they get on Medicare.”
As for the tech problems with the ACA’s website, Larson hopes those are in the past.
“Every once in a while you run into a technical problem or an issue with an application,” he said. “I’ve had quite a few now that I have started from the beginning and gone all the way through and off they went and people purchased their coverage.”
Larson says that overall, the ACA is off to a good start but it will be a while before people realize the full benefits.
“If you didn’t have coverage before you were a broken leg or a heart attack away from having to file bankruptcy,” he said. “I think people haven’t yet realized the benefits of this, the psychological part of the whole thing hasn’t really sunk in.”