The deadline for signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is approaching fast. Feb. 15 is the date the federal government sets as the final point for most people to get insurance without incurring a penalty.
As the time runs down, three groups that separately have been trying to get Alabamians enrolled in health insurance have joined forces: The Dannon Project, Enroll Alabama and Birmingham Health Care. All three will be at Princeton Baptist Medical Center Friday, Feb. 13, and Saturday, Feb. 14, to offer free assistance for people who need coverage. The “navigators,” volunteers dedicated to helping people sign up, will be in Princeton’s Haynes Auditorium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days.
“These groups have been working together on some level throughout the open enrollment period,” said Robin DeMonia of Direct Communications, speaking for the groups. “They meet regularly to discuss ways they can coordinate their efforts and avoid duplication, and at key intervals, they’ve done joint events in the past.”
Weld asked Agee Baldwin, III, Birmingham field navigator for Enroll Alabama, to explain more.
Weld: Is the level of enrollment being impacted by political considerations or political rhetoric? If so, how so?
Agee Baldwin: This is a really great question! It is most likely the case that in many, if not all, areas of our state, political leanings have played a part in diminishing the enrollment efforts taking place. Aside from the lack of Medicaid expansion, which works to systematically deprive and impede access to care for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians, the larger issue is the one centered around misinformation. Every day here at Enroll Alabama, we sit down with people who qualify for large subsidies, end up enrolling in plans that cover 87-94 percent of their healthcare costs, and still don’t know where Obamacare ends and the Affordable Care Act begins.
All across the state we are finding [that] there is a profound and fundamental misunderstanding of exactly how the ACA and Health Insurance Marketplace can actually benefit us, as a people. Due to the seemingly ubiquitous yet erroneous perception of the ACA, a large part of our job consists of teasing apart fact from fiction and helping Alabamians make informed decisions about their health.
Weld: What happens if people don’t sign up by the deadline?
AB: Unfortunately for many people that do not sign up by the Feb. 15 final deadline, they will be subject to the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment (better known as the fine). This year the fine will either be 2 percent of your yearly household income or $325 per person for the year ($162.50 per child under 18). However individuals that undergo a significant life-changing event — e.g. getting married, divorced, moving, having a baby, etc. — will be able to get enrolled in coverage up to 60 days after the life-changing event has occurred.
Enroll Alabama, The Dannon Project and Birmingham Healthcare will still be working well beyond the Feb. 15 deadline to ensure that individuals eligible for the special enrollment period will still be able to get in-person assistance.
Weld: How are your organizations individually or collectively getting the word out as the deadline approaches?
AB: We have been utilizing as many methods as we can to try to get the word out across the state. Partnering with other organizations has helped us get closer to achieving this goal.
For instance, various hospitals have sent mailings out to patients informing them about the Health Insurance Marketplace, as well as how to find out if they qualify for financial assistance through the ACA. We also have relationships with local libraries and community organizations throughout the state who have been willing to help promote our many enrollment events.
As an individual organization, we have created and circulated flyers, handbills and press releases. Additionally, we have various social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, through which we hope to reach a larger audience. We have also been fortunate in establishing contacts in both radio and television.
Weld: Are you targeting any particular groups in your efforts?
AB: As a statewide organization, Enroll Alabama has the opportunity to work with individuals, families and businesses in all 67 of Alabama’s counties. In the Birmingham area, more specifically, we have partnered with The Dannon Project, Birmingham Health Care, Baptist Health Systems, St. Vincent’s Health Systems and the United Way in order to reach individuals that may qualify for a tax subsidy to purchase their health insurance. Our primary focus this open enrollment period has been to reach those who will qualify for the tax subsidy.
Weld: Is there anything people typically may not know that they need to know?
- Financial assistance is determined by income and household size, which is determined by the Marketplace
- Household size, according to the Marketplace, is determined by the number of people filed on the same tax return
- There is a minimum income in order to qualify for financial assistance for each household size (see below)
- Consumers will not be penalized/fined if you fall into the Medicaid Gap (in other words, below that minimum income amount) — just fill out and file Form 8965 when you do your taxes
Here’s a chart of income ranges eligible for financial assistance through the Marketplace in relation to household size:
|Persons in Household||2014 Federal Poverty Level for Continental U.S. (Minimum)||2014 Federal Poverty Level for Continental U.S. (Maximum)|
Weld: Is there anything you feel you’d like to say on behalf of your organizations that I haven’t asked?
AB: There is a lot of misinformation circulating around the ACA, and our goal is to help clear the fog so that clear decisions can be made. The life-blood motivating us to do what we do is people. We are your neighbors, your friends, and most importantly we are your advocate. Our heart is to make sure that every Alabamian has equitable access to comprehensive health coverage. If you are confused about anything we can help. In fact, we’d love to help for free! Call us toll-free at (844) 248-7698.
Princeton Baptist Medical Center is located at 801 Tuscaloosa Avenue SW, Birmingham, AL 35211. Parking is free behind Haynes Auditorium or in the deck at the corner of Tuscaloosa Avenue and 7th Street Southwest.
For more information, visit healthcare.gov or call the Dannon Project (205-451-5188), Enroll Alabama (844-248-7698), Birmingham Health Care (205-439-7212) or Princeton Baptist Medical Center (205-783-3427).