Local News

Obamacare open enrollment deadline nears

SEBRING - Florida is one of the few states on track to meet White House projections for enrollment in health plans under the Affordable Care Act.

As the March 31 open enrollment deadline to sign up for health insurance on the federal and state exchanges approaches, certified navigator Angela Hendry has been busy helping people sign up for health insurance on the federal web site, healthcare.gov

Hendry, who is with Heartland Rural Health Network, said she's been "very, very busy" this month, especially this week.

In the beginning things were slow, she said, but inquiries have picked up as the deadline approaches in the next two weeks.

Hendry's office is in Avon Park, but to help those who live in Lake Placid and the south end of the county, she will be available, by appointment, March 27 at the Lake Placid Memorial Library.

To make an appointment, either to see Hendry at the library or her office, 1200 W. Avon Blvd., Avon Park, call 452-6530, Ext. 303.

In the last few weeks, she has seen people of all ages and demographic groups. Her job is to educate people about the Affordable Care Act, and walk people through the health exchange if they have questions - from whether they are eligible for tax subsidies or credits and broad information on the four "tiers" or metal plans being offered.

She cannot advise people about which health insurance plan is good for them, she explained, and defers all such questions to the insurance company.

Local psychologist Bruce Borkosky also is helping people sign up.

"The website (healthcare.gov) has still been unavailable, down, crashing, or having too many people on it (requiring waiting for people trying to get insurance)," he said. "The person I signed up yesterday had to come four different times before we were able to get her signed up.

"Overall, it's working a lot better, and the design of the web pages are much more user-friendly, but the technology still seems to be having problems. I would have thought they would have fixed those problems by now," he added in an email.

Borkosky said he has been busier this month.

"I never had a whole lot of folks, though. Some folks have stated that, even though they don't know anything about the ACA, that they would rather pay the fine, no matter the cost, than to have health insurance," he said.

Many have called, but they do not qualify for subsidies, and cannot afford the retail price for insurance, because their income is too low, he said.

"These are disabled people, or unemployed people. If they lived in another state, such as Kentucky, they could have qualified for the Medicaid expansion," he said. "So, I tell those people not to even bother coming in."

Borkosky blamed the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature for not expanding Medicaid that would have helped some of these folks.

Borkosky can be reached for an appointment by calling 386-0276. Email him at drborkosky@gmail.com

Central Florida Healthcare is also helping people enroll. Avon Park clinic officials could not be reached Tuesday for information on appointment schedules. The Avon Park clinic is located at 950 County Road 17A W. They can be reached at 452-3000.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials released data showing that more than 442,000 Floridians have signed up for plans since October. That's not far from the Obama administration's target goal of 477,000 for the end of March.

Tuesday's data revealed that more than 145,000 signed up in February.

Nationwide, more than 5 million have enrolled through the federal and state-based exchanges since Oct. 1, the department of health and human services said.

Last week, healthcare.gov saw more than 4 million visits - and another million this weekend, the department said.

Enrollees can buy health insurance through the exchanges only during the annual open enrollment period.

A special enrollment period allows those eligible to purchase insurance through the exchanges outside the open enrollment period. People generally qualify for a special enrollment period of 60 days following "certain life events that involve a change in family status" such as marriage, birth of a child or loss of other health coverage, healthcare.gov states.

"If you don't have a special enrollment period, you can't buy insurance through the marketplace until the next open enrollment period. Job-based plans generally allow special enrollment periods of 30 days," the web site adds.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most people - except those exempt - have to have insurance by the end of open enrollment period, or they will face a fine of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income for failing to comply with the law.

The Associated Press contributed to the report.