Marketplace clock ticking for Jan. 1 coverage

The Independence Express, the insurance company's mobile Internet-enabled education and retail health-care center, has 14 computer workstations to help people get coverage.
The Independence Express, the insurance company's mobile Internet-enabled education and retail health-care center, has 14 computer workstations to help people get coverage. (ROBERT CALANDRA)
Posted: December 23, 2013

Nayah Houston, 21, of University City, finally got through.

It took the part-time preschool classroom assistant five tries and help from a certified navigator and a call-center rep to wend her way through the healthcare.gov website. But she hung in and snagged a silver-tier HMO plan with - are you ready for this? - a 12-cents-a-month premium.

That's right: 12 cents a month.

Hair salon owner Gina Falcone, 55, of Norristown, is also covered come Jan. 1. She started logging on to healthcare.gov in early November and kept getting error messages.

Falcone, who has multiple sclerosis, was frustrated but determined. She made a date to meet a navigator at a Starbucks. Faster than she could break down the calorie count in a caramel brulee latte, she bought a platinum-tier plan.

Houston and Falcone are set for health insurance when the Times Square ball lights up 2014. But thousands of uninsured residents here have only until Monday to log on to healthcare.gov and pick a plan if they want to be covered come the new year. Plans will not take effect until the first premium is paid.

Enrollment will continue through March 31. But choosing a plan between Tuesday and Jan. 15 means your insurance won't kick in until Feb. 1.

Healthcare.gov seems to be on the mend, though it's not perfect. About eight of 10 people can access it and finish a transaction.

"Things are dramatically different than they were prior to Dec. 1," said Paula Sunshine, Independence Blue Cross vice president for consumer affairs. "Our enrollment for the first week of December equals our total enrollment for October and November."

The Independence Express, the insurer's mobile, Internet-enabled vehicle, has been crisscrossing city neighborhoods and the suburbs, offering education sessions and helping people enroll. More than 5,000 people have gone through the vehicle.

"We've had a lot of interest from people coming in through the Express to learn what it is they need to know to make the choices right for them and their family," Sunshine said. "What is different now is the number of people who are actually able to complete their shopping experience before they leave."

Among those folks was Lucia Della Vecchia of Dresher. She received a letter from Independence saying her plan was one of those being phased out under the new law. So she visited the Express for a new one.

"This [new] plan is just about the same" as her old plan, Della Vecchia, 63, said. "I know there are a lot of people out there without health insurance, and I think it's great that somebody is doing something about it."

The people at Resources for Human Development are doing all they can to get as many people as possible signed up before Monday. The phones have been ringing off the hook, said Laura Line, RHD's corporate assistant director of health care. The recipient of Pennsylvania's largest grant to train navigators, RHD says it has helped more than 6,500 people in the city and suburbs buy insurance.

"We are so pleased to see how site improvements since Dec. 1 are enabling significantly more people to get affordable health insurance," Line said.

New Jersey Citizen Action's phone bank hopes to call 5,000 people before the deadline.

"People have been really appreciative that we are calling to give them some information," said Maura Collinsgru, the group's health policy advocate. The team is focused on giving information to "consumers we know are likely uninsured."

Collinsgru said the biggest obstacle to getting people signed up in New Jersey had been misinformation and confusion about Medicaid expansion. The state accepted federal money to expand Medicaid. But when the state Legislature tried to make the expansion permanent, Gov. Christie vetoed that aspect.

"We have people that still believe that Medicaid expansion has not taken place here in New Jersey," Collinsgru said. But it has.


Robert Calandra can be reached at 215-836-0101 and RTCaca@verizon.net.

This article was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health-policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

|
|
|
|
|