The deadline to sign up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace is nearing. Those seeking to enroll have until next Monday, March 31, or they may face a fine.
3/26/14 UPDATE: The Obama Administration said late Tuesday that it will grant extensions to those who've tried to sign up for coverage before the deadline but don't finish the process by March 31st.
Numerous guides and insurance brokers around the state are helping people sign up. At the Central Arkansas Library System’s Main Branch, In-Person-Assisters like Maalik Saafir say they’ve been busy working with people who want coverage. He said he assists people who’ve heard about coverage options through a variety of sources.
“Some of it is advertisement because we do some community events and public outreach,” he said. “We do try to connect with colleges in the city. We do try to connect with businesses who may have employees who are not insured but they are part time and they may qualify to enroll. So we have different ways we try to reach out to the community.”
But, Saafir believes, the most successful form of outreach has been word of mouth. This observation was echoed by a fellow IPA Brandi Hawkins, who said many people have heard about enrollment through family, friends and neighbors. "We had one particular consumer [who's] referred several people," she said.
For 46-year old Krissye Eskew, a hairdresser from Little Rock, an unsuccessful attempt to enroll her two college-aged sons a couple months ago brought her to the library to try again.
“I heard about them on the news last night,” she said. “I thought ‘well, I’ll go down there tomorrow. I came down here today and things went really smooth. [I] Got right in and [I’m] getting right out.”
Eskew found out her sons may be eligible for the Arkansas's 'private option'. She said they had to await confirmation from the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
As of March 1st, 27,395 Arkansans have selected private insurance plans on the Marketplace, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to the Arkansas DHS, an additional 97,934 state residents have enrolled in insurance plans through the state’s 'private option' program (as of March 7th). Those living at or below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level can qualify for insurance plans on the 'private option,' which is paid for with federal Medicaid dollars.
The DHS says that of those private option recipients, 33,564 applied for coverage through the federally-facilitated Marketplace; the rest were notified of their coverage eligibility by the state of Arkansas.
Saafir said he noticed that many of the people he and other In-Person-Assisters have helped sign up for coverage have had incomes around the FPL.
After finishing the beginning stages of enrolling her sons, Eskew said she had expected to run into more people at the library also trying to enroll before the deadline.
“You know in my mind I pictured coming down here and there being a long line...I thought I was in the wrong room...I looked and saw there was no one else here but a couple people.”
On her enrollment experience Monday: “It’s been good.”
Last month, the Arkansas Legislature passed a measure placing future restrictions on state outreach, eliminating funding to buy ads promoting the Insurance Marketplace when the new fiscal year begins July 1st.
The new funding reductions also apply to In-Person-Assisters; but as the IPA's at Little Rock's Main Library noted, they were aware upon being hired that their contracts would end after March 31st, when the period of open enrollment also ends.