Surge expected as Obamacare deadline approaches

With less than 72 hours to go, health care advocacy groups and volunteers are anticipating a surge of consumers scrambling to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act before the enrollment period expires at midnight Sunday.

Local in-person enrollment assisters and call center representatives are taking last-minute appointments and holding clinics to help people understand enrollment process for subsidized commercial insurance offered under the health care law to people who don’t have access to it on the job and don’t qualify for government programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Enroll America, a national nonprofit that has led enrollment efforts in Ohio and other states, will host an enrollment event from 1:30 to 6 p.m. today at the Dayton Metro Library’s main branch at 215 East Third Street.

Consumers can also get information and enroll through the nonprofit’s Get Covered Connector at — an online scheduling tool for enrollment assistance implemented in Ohio by Enroll America and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Earlier this week, consumers using the connector website scheduled 125 appointments on Tuesday and 130 appointments on Wednesday, according to Trey Daly, Enroll America’s Ohio director. Daly said the website hasn’t seen that kind of traffic since open enrollment began last November.

“We’ve seen a record number of appointments scheduled in the last two days through the connector,” Daly said Wednesday. “As each day passes as we approach the final deadline, we’re seeing a record number of appointments scheduled through the system.”

Daly said potential penalties under the law for not having health insurance are driving some of the traffic. People who choose not to obtain health insurance before Sunday may be faced with a fine of $325 or 2 percent of annual income, whichever is higher, on next year’s tax return.

Many people enrolling in health insurance for the first time need help understanding insurance terms, such as premiums and deductibles, that people with work-based health insurance have spelled out for them by their human resources departments, Daly said.

In addition, some people are still trying to reconcile the facts with misleading or false information about the law — including news reports about skyrocketing monthly premium costs that fail to mention government tax-credit subsidies that can dramatically drive down the cost of insurance.

“All along, the biggest challenge to people getting enrolled has been either a lack of information or misinformation,” Daly said. “People assume that the coverage is not affordable when they don’t know about the financial assistance that’s available. Once we’re able to talk them through the tax credits…then they know it’s affordable.”

Nationwide, more than 10 million people have selected private health plans sold through federal and state-run health insurance marketplaces, and eight out of 10 people qualified for financial help with their premiums — saving an average of $268 a month, according to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

More than 200,000 Ohioans — including about 24,000 in the Miami Valley — have selected new plans or re-enrolled in health plans they purchased last year during the inaugural launch of the marketplaces, according to HHS.

Still, subsidized coverage for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans could be in jeopardy, according to Kathleen Gmeiner, director of UHCAN Ohio/Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage project.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case, King v Burwell, challenging subsidies through federal marketplaces in 37 states, including Ohio. Plaintiffs argue the law, as written, restricts subsidies to state exchanges. Supporters argue the law was clearly intended to make subsidies available to citizens in all states.

“If the Burwell case results in the plaintiffs winning, we estimate about 300,000 Ohioans would loose financial assistance by 2016,” Gmeiner said. “We would see a very significant negative effect because most people in the marketplace are getting subsidies, and for most of those folks it’s enough that without it they just wouldn’t be able to afford the coverage.”

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