Last minute glitches don't seem to be deterring Obamacare enrollment

03/31/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, healthcare, Navigators, Medicaid, kathy castor


Brochures and donuts lined two tables at Al Lopez Park where people could get help registering for Obamacare.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Despite some more glitches on, turnout is high in Tampa on the final day to enroll in Obamacare. More than 30 people were already waiting in line by 10:30 a.m. Monday at Al Lopez Park to get help enrolling in private health insurance under the federal healthcare law. Most of those people, like Myrta Mayor, are hoping that their last minute enrollment can save them some money on coverage that is now required.

“The one that they’re offering at my job is very expensive - $753 a month and I cannot afford [it].”

Under the Affordable Care Act, people making between 100 and 400% of the federal poverty level qualify for a subsidy to help pay their premiums. Some people already enrolled have touted the savings. Sylvia Alvarez is volunteering to help out at Al Lopez Park because she and her husband, founders of Tampa’s Housing and Education Alliance, were able to save more than $500 a month each on their insurance.

“My husband and I were each being charged $925 a month each for healthcare coverage - $10,000 deductible, huge out of pockets, huge co-pays. It was just not feasible. We had to cancel the policies. Figure: that is a mortgage payment.”

But not everyone is excited to be waiting in line. Michael Hill is one of some 300,000 Floridians whose health coverage was canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act. That led to a giant smack to the Obama administration after he had claimed, “if you like your insurance, you can keep it.”

“I had health insurance and that was always a good thing. It came through my job so that was all taken care of.”

Hill is hoping that despite the inconvenience of having to find a new policy it will benefit him by having either a lower premium or better coverage – or both. And those benefits are what Democrats are talking up today. Member of Congress Kathy Castor spoke to the press just after the doors opened this morning at Al Lopez Park. She skirted questions about the politics behind Obamacare, instead pointing to its impact on people with pre-existing conditions, women’s health and the ability for young people to stay on their parents’ insurance longer. Regardless, enrollment may fall about a million people short of the original 7 million goal used to help determine premiums. Opponents speculate that could mean a hike in prices in November when the next wave of enrollment starts.

“Whatever the goals were, you cannot take away the fact that these people in here are going to be able to see a doctor, going to be able to see a nurse, get the care they need. The folks at the University of South Florida, Tampa Parks and Rec, Tampa Family Health Centers, these navigators have done a fantastic job of outreach.”

Castor said rates should stay solid for at least two years, but didn’t comment on what may happen after that. And she tried to divert attention away from other criticism by Obamacare haters in Congress who are pointing to more glitches in the website used to enroll in policies that locked people out for an extra four hours this morning.

“Well, you know, my Republican colleagues in Congress don’t want it to work. They voted 50 times now to repeal the act. So, they’re looking for these negative stories.”

Castor argued the early morning site closure wasn’t causing delays at outreach centers.

“We checked in this morning with the navigators here on site and they said there have been no delays on the computer. If you call the 1-800 number they’re taking your calls up to midnight tonight.”

There were also some touch-and-go issues reported by navigators at the Tampa park. But Katrina Osborne with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay who is helping organize the final enrollment outreach says those haven’t caused too much delay.

“There is one area that we’re looking at. Some people have to authenticate their identity. Like, when you go through the marketplace, you have to enter information to create a username and password. So, some people were having issues with that, but it seems to be resolved now.”

U.S. Representative Castor is urging people who are already enrolled in some sort of health plan to get friends and family who aren’t out to sign up.

“What you want most of all is for other people to have insurance so that you don’t wind up paying extra out of your premiums and co-pays to cover those that do not have insurance.”

Enrollment centers are expected to be busy today as last minute procrastinators rush to get covered and many, to avoid a penalty under the individual mandate. But there will likely still be hundreds of thousands of Floridians who can’t afford coverage because Florida is one of 23 states that hasn’t taken federal funding to expand Medicaid. About three quarters of a million people in the Sunshine State fall into a gap where they don’t make enough to qualify for a subsidy under the healthcare law, but make too much to get Medicaid. Those people, Castor says, should be safeguarded from penalties for not getting health insurance by today’s deadline.

“There is a hardship provision in the law. So, if this is an economic hardship, there’s not going to be any penalty.”

Both Republicans and Democrats will be watching the numbers today as enrollees have until midnight to start the process. Those who are still working on finding a plan after midnight will be given some extra time to finish the process. Navigators will be at Al Lopez Park until 9 Monday evening. The USF navigator office on Fletcher Avenue is open until 5 and the Springhill Recreation Center on Eskimo Avenue in Tampa is open until 7.

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