Today is final day to enroll for health insurance

The Fresno Bee aibarra@mercedsun-star.comApril 14, 2014 

Only hours remain before the deadline to enroll in health insurance plans to avoid a tax penalty this year.

Health insurance counselors in the central San Joaquin Valley have lists of people who need help to beat the Affordable Care Act enrollment cutoff – 11:59 p.m. today.

But there were no long lines Monday outside enrollment centers, a far cry from the scene two weeks ago when people rushed to meet a March 31 deadline and the volume of applicants crashed Covered California’s online enrollment system. The computer meltdown forced the state’s health benefit exchange to give people a two-week reprieve to complete the enrollment process.

Merced’s Healthy House Within A MATCH Coalition, which has been continuously signing up residents for health insurance since October, enrolled about 140 households during the last weekend prior to the March 31 deadline. On Monday, enrollment counselors at Healthy House saw just 12 families.

“We usually have four or five enrollment counselors available. It gets a bit busy in the mornings, but then it slows down,” said Healthy House Executive Director Candice Adam-Medefind. “We have a couple of appointments set up for Tuesday, but nothing compared to the final days of the original deadline.”

Healthy House will remain open today to accommodate those who waited until the last minute, she said, but an overwhelming crowd isn’t anticipated.

At Clinica Sierra Vista on Elm Avenue in southwest Fresno, calls for appointments with enrollment assistance have been steady the past two weeks, but Clinica has enrollment counselors ready for walk-ins. “We have two people at our busiest sites,” said Lizeth Lopez, programs manager at Clinica.

People do fear the tax penalty, Lopez said.

In 2014, the annual penalty is $95 for each adult and $47.50 for each child, up to $285 per family, or 1 percent of the tax filer’s annual household income, minus the federal tax filing threshold, whichever is greater. No penalty is owed for incomes less than $10,150.

By the March 31 deadline, more than 1.2 million Californians had enrolled in health plans through the exchange.

Health plans through the site have subsidies available to help offset premiums for people with lower incomes. About 85 percent of those who have signed up for plans have qualified for subsidies, according to Covered California. Statewide 1.5 million people had enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state-federal insurance for low-income residents.

Through Feb. 28, enrollment in Covered California health plans had reached 64,189 in the nine Valley counties, the latest numbers available.

It’s not known how many people have enrolled since March 31, but Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said last week that 70,000 had enrolled in the first nine days of April.

People have waited to the last minute to enroll out of “general confusion,” said Greg Shore, a Fresno insurance agent and broker who has helped people sign up for coverage. And there are people without Internet access, he said.

“And it’s procrastination for some of them,” he added.

Diana Parret, 59, of Fresno, encouraged people to get help to enroll. It’s too great a risk to be without insurance, she said.

In December, she lost her employer-sponsored insurance when she was laid off from her sales job. In February, she enrolled in a Kaiser Permanente health plan offered through Covered California. With a subsidy, her monthly premium is $207.

In March, she found out she had uterine cancer, and on April 2, she had surgery.

“I was told it was caught in time,” she said. “I have a new lease on life.”

She would have enrolled in a health plan in January, she said, “but I’m not a computer person.”

She found help at the Kaiser retail store in Fresno to enroll. “I couldn’t have done it on my own,” she said. “I had someone help me.”

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