Crunch time nears for health care enrollment
CHAMPAIGN — It's crunch time for Affordable Care Act enrollment, with the deadline set for 10:59 p.m. Monday.
For those who waited until the end to sign up for required health coverage, help will be available in some areas across the state through the weekend. Hours for in-person assistance are being lengthened — in some communities until midnight — to accommodate an anticipated glut of applicants in the final days before open enrollment in the government insurance marketplace closes for the year.
A spokesman for the Illinois marketplace is urging everyone to take the deadline — adjusted for the Central time zone — seriously.
A grace period has been approved for enrollees who hit a technical glitch during the final days, but it's for folks who really tried "and through no fault of their own, they couldn't complete their enrollment," said Brian Gorman, director of outreach for Get Covered Illinois.
For example, he said, the federal website was jammed and the enrollment couldn't be finalized, or someone couldn't get through on the phone help lines to get a key question answered.
With enrollment traffic building in the final weeks, the state has ramped up for a busy weekend, Gorman said.
Website traffic has doubled and doubled again in the last three weeks, and the state's help desk had 8,000 calls in a single day this past week, he said.
Navigators — the in-person counselors who have been helping people sign up for coverage since enrollment opened Oct. 1, 2013 — have been urged to extend hours to offer evening and weekend help, and the state's phone help line will be available through midnight, he said.
"All our navigators working this week have been really slammed," Gorman said.
Amanda Ziemnisky, a navigator helping with enrollment at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, picks up a stack of applications that have been processed there in just the past few days and said she and other helpers in Champaign have been swamped.
"I think people are starting to panic," she added. "They waited till the last minute."
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will have walk-in help available this morning and into the evening on Monday. Campaign for Better Health Care in downtown Champaign is seeing enrollees by appointment only today and Monday, but call soon. Those appointments are filling up fast, said Bob Porter, a navigator with that organization.
Ahmed Elmaazouzy, 35, of Champaign, says he waited to apply for health coverage Friday morning because he also waited to finish his taxes first, to see if he and his wife would qualify for the state Medicaid program.
Ziemnisky, who helped him apply at C-U Public Health, reminds everyone the March 31 deadline applies only to private health insurance plans being sold through the government marketplaces. Those looking to apply for Medicaid can continue applying past Monday.
Elmaazouzy said his two children are already covered by Medicaid, but he hasn't had health coverage since he was employed in food service at Presence Covenant Medical Center four years ago. He hasn't been to a doctor in all that time, either, he said, because he worried about the cost.
Will he see a doctor if his Medicaid application is approved?
"OK, I wish," he said.
Ziemnisky said one enrollment glitch that has been turning up lately has been in verifying enrollee identity. Navigators at public health are taking pictures of the error message with the date on the screen, and others hitting a similar glitch and planning to apply after the Monday deadline might want to consider doing likewise, she said.
Gorman advises to keep trying, but know the grace period is available if you need it. And if you can't finish the enrollment on time, don't delay trying again.
"If something happens on Monday, let's get you in on Tuesday," he said.
Still haven't signed up for Obamacare? Here's how to get help before Monday's deadline:
State help line, 7 a.m. to midnight all weekend and Monday: 866-311-1119
Federal help line, available 24 hours, 7 days a week: 1-800-318-2596
Walk-in help at Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, 201 W. Kenyon Road, Champaign: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday
Campaign for Better Health Care, 44 E. Main St., Champaign: Call ahead for appointment availability, 217-352-5600, this morning and Monday