Today is the last day to sign up for Affordable Care Act insurance if you want it to kick in by January 1, 2014, and while Healthcare.gov has gotten much easier to use, Ohio is still far short of its enrollment goals.
When WYSO talked to Maxine Johnson last month, she had tried six times to sign up for Obamacare. She finally got a plan after major fixes to the website went through in December.
“After being on, being knocked off and the computer going down several times,” she says, “I finally can say that, yay! I made it.”
Johnson enrolled in the nick of time for a plan that will cost her around $50 a month, less than she paid for an employer plan she’ll be losing January 1. She recently had an eye surgery that requires follow-up care, and she has been concerned and persistent, driving to meet Dayton’s ACA navigators no less than four times before enrolling in a plan.
She says she knows several people with less immediate health needs who have just given up, an anecdote that doesn't bode well for the new federal insurance plans; they need younger, healthier people to enroll in order to balance out the costs and keep premiums from skyrocketing.
In the first two months of the new insurance marketplace, just around 5,700 Ohioans enrolled in plans through the federal marketplace—that’s out of an estimated 1.3 million who are uninsured and eligible for Marketplace plans. In order to qualify, you must make more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, and be unable to get a comparable qualifying plan from an employer. Those making less than the poverty level can now enroll in Medicaid under the expanded state program.
Still, insurers and customers alike are reporting that the website fixes completed at the end of November have made a huge difference in enrollment. On Friday, President Obama reported around a half millions people had signed up for plans in the first three weeks of December—more enrollees than the first two months combined.
“CareSource has been ecstatic with our growth of the last two weeks alone,” said Scott Streator, Vice President of the Health Insurance Marketplace for Dayton-based insurer CareSource. CareSource is now enrolling hundreds of people a day. “We’ve had 160% growth, five times the growth in November. If that would continue through the first quarter of next year, we would surpass our projections.”
Like many people deeply involved in the rollout, Streator also says the horse-race of enrollment numbers and website fixes isn’t representative of the overall success of the law.
“The Affordable Care Act should be really viewed as synonymous with health reform, and it cannot be measured by a one-month snapshot for success,” he says. “Success does not happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, CareSource has joined some other insurance companies in extending the deadline for payment for plans that start Jan. 1. Customers like Maxine Johnson will have until Jan. 10 to make their first payment.
Today’s deadline is far from the last. Anyone who signs up for plans by Jan. 15, Feb. 15 and March 15 can have insurance kick in by the first of the following month. After those deadlines, the real end game is March 31: the final day to sign up through the federal Marketplace in 2014 and avoid a tax penalty.