Enroll now or wait until October to get health insurance
By Charles Hallman
Open enrollment for health coverage through MNsure ends March 31. According to officials, enrollment has increased 54 percent — about 56,000 new applications since December 31 — and its call center staffing has increased, with an average hold time of three minutes as opposed to an hour at the end of December.
President Barack Obama told state and local elected officials during a February 24 conference call that he remains committed to work with them “to educate their residents about the importance of enrolling in health care before March 31,” said a White House press release.
Despite its critics and misinformation about the law, along with the start-up problems last fall, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has “created new pathways” for uninsured individuals and families to get health coverage, said Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) officials.
KFF officials spoke about the ACA and what it means for African Americans February 25 during an exclusive media conference call with National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) reporters, including the MSR.
“It’s likely in all states that more people who already were eligible for Medicaid before the ACA but not enrolled will likely now be covered,” said KFF Disparities Policy Project Director Samantha Artiga. “Secondly, in states that are implementing [Medicaid] expansion, many adults will become eligible who previously couldn’t enroll…
“Lastly, in addition to the simplified enrollment processing, there also are simplified applications that make it easier for people to renew their coverage over time,” Artiga added.
KFF State Health Reform Director Jennifer Tolbert said that eight of 10 state exchanges have shown increases in enrollees: “We know that 55 percent are women — 25 percent are in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old age group, and 82 percent have received financial assistance.”
The MSR then asked what happens to those who don’t sign up for health insurance by March 31.
Artiga explained that if you are not signed up for health insurance by the end of March, you must wait until the next open enrollment period in October “unless there is a change in circumstance… These kinds of changes include someone getting married or divorced, birth or adoption of a child; someone losing a job or losing their access to employer-sponsored health insurance. These are circumstances that will allow someone to go to the marketplace and apply for coverage.”
She added that the March 31 deadline only applies for signing up for health insurance through federal or state health insurance marketplaces such as MNsure.
Currently 26 states (including D.C.) have implemented Medicaid expansion, a provision mandated by the ACA, while 25 other states have not — a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said that states are not required to do this. According to KFF Senior Policy Analyst Jessica Stephens, at least 21 percent of U.S. Blacks, compared to 13 percent of Whites, are “likely to be affected” by these states not implementing Medicaid expansion.
Stephens pointed out that these uninsured persons in states without a health insurance exchange “are left without enrollment options… 4.8 million [persons] fall into the coverage gap. Overall, three in 10 uninsured adults, and three in 10 uninsured adults of color… [and] four in 10 Black adults fall into this coverage gap in the southern states.”
Tolbert noted, “A large share of low-income Black Americans live in the South compared to other regions. About 60 percent could qualify for Medicaid expansion, but the majority of the southern states are not currently expanding Medicaid.”
“[Uninsured persons] basically are facing the same sort of circumstances they previously faced” — no health insurance, said Artiga. “Many are working [but] they often [are] in jobs that do not have health insurance, or when it’s offered, their share of the premiums are unaffordable.”
Between last October, when open enrollment began, and December, over 6.3 million persons have been determined eligible for Medicaid, she emphasized.
The MSR asked about when will enrollment data by race and ethnicity is available.
“We anticipate that once the open enrollment period closes, we should learn more about who is getting coverage, including characteristics on race, ethnicity, and income and how many of the folk that signed up were previously uninsured,” surmised Tolbert, who concluded, “I don’t know when or if this data will be available.”
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