New Yorkers Rush To Enroll In Obamacare

HOST INTRO: The deadline to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act is Monday. But forty per-cent of uninsured Americans didn’t know about that deadline, a month ago, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In New York, community organizations authorized by the state to sign people up for insurance have been putting in extra hours as the deadline nears. And a lot of New Yorkers have been coming to see them. Kate Cox reports.

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New York State’s goal is to have a million people signed up for health insurance by 2016. The number now stands at 700,000. Just last week 50,000 New Yorkers signed up. People like Elisabeth Benjamin have the job of helping them.

BENJAMIN: “It’s been crazy. I mean, you know, I’m working ten days straight. I worked on Sunday, I’ll work Saturday, Sunday, we’ll be here late Monday night. We’re going to get every single person who wants to be covered, covered. And we won’t stop until they’re in.” (00:13)

Benjamin is in charge of health care initiatives for the Community Service Society of New York, which oversees the state’s largest enrollment network. She’s also what’s known as a navigator. That’s someone who’s been certified by the state to walk New Yorkers through the four tiers of plans offered by several companies. Benjamin thinks a lot of New Yorkers have been putting off signing up because they’re daunted by all the choices and all the jargon.

BENJAMIN: “…deductibles, actuarial values, whether you’re doctor’s in or out. It’s just too confusing for people, the co-pays, co-insurance, you know there’s just a lot of mumbo jumbo and people don’t like dealing with it.” (0:12)

That’s how Alexander Wells felt about it. He could’ve signed up online but he didn’t feel comfortable.

WELLS: “Ah, I don’t like to go on the internet, I mean, I don’t like to go on social media stuff. They said you could come in, I think it’s a little bit more human like, and you could talk to the person and it’s better than just looking at a screen. ” (00:13)

Wells hasn’t had insurance for seven years. He’s right in Obamacare’s target audience: working americans who have full-time jobs that don’t provide them with health insurance.

WELLS: “I have a union job, but unfortunately the union doesn’t pay, you know, certain workers’ insurance.” (00:07)

Some are signing up at the last minute because they’re skeptical about Obamacare.

JESSICA: “I’d like a solution, but I’m not sure that I think this system actually works.” (0:03)

That’s Jessica. She didn’t want to give her last name. She’s a freelance artist and her income varies. Between that and her schedule it took a while for her to come in.

JESSICA: “Oh God, it was like the last possible moment I could make it.” (00:03)

New York is one of fourteen states that are signing people up under the Affordable Care Act themselves. In most of the country the federal government is doing that job. Seth Chandler teaches insurance law at the University of Houston. He says New York State has done well getting people to sign up because the options under Obamacare are much better than they were before.

CHANDLER “What New York did right in part was to have one of the worst systems before the Affordable Care Act was put in place that really prevented many people from purchasing individual health insurance.” (00:12)

Chandler says it also helped that politicians from the governor on down have generally been supportive of the ACA. He says it’s one of the states where it’s cool to sign up. But it’s not that way in other states. He cites Texas as an example. If Texas can’t get enough people to sign up, Chandler says there may be problems there.

CHANDLER: “The issue’s going to be, what happens in those states where insurers start either pulling out of the market or raise their prices twenty percent, twenty-five percent because of their bad experience?”

Chandler says that’s likely to happen if they don’t get enough customers. The Obama administration announced yesterday that six million people have enrolled for Obamacare. But Chandler says those people just visited a website. It’ll be a while before we know how many actually signed up.

Kate Cox, Columbia Radio News.

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