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More People Signing up for ACA Health Coverage Before Dec. 15 Deadline 
With just over two weeks remaining to sign up for or renew health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, Tennesseans are keeping pace with the rest of the country in increased sign-ups at Healthcare.gov

Within the first three weeks of this year’s enrollment period, 62,235 Tennesseans have signed up for 2018 coverage via Healthcare.gov. 

Over the comparable period in 2016, 44,959 Tennesseans signed up for 2017 coverage at Healthcare.gov. A total of 234,125 Tennesseans had enrolled online by the Jan. 31 deadline. This year’s deadline is Dec. 15, five weeks less than last year. 

Nationwide, the number of visits to Healthcare.gov, as well as sign-ups and renewals, within the first few days of the enrollment period were all up from 2016, despite 90-percent decrease in spending on outreach about the ACA and Healthcare.gov. 

Tennessee Health Care Campaign (THCC) volunteer Carl Wheeler estimates that, based on attendance at local enrollment events, sign-ups in Knoxville are up by approximately 15 percent over last year. 

“Nine out of 10 people are coming out the door happy and smiling,” he says. “They’re getting some pretty good deals.” Since plans are based on income, lowest-rate plans are available to residents whose annual household earnings are between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level and therefore qualify for premium tax credits (subsidies). 

Wheeler, who has volunteered with THCC since 2013, plans and schedules the enrollment events and coordinates the volunteers who assist insurance seekers. He’s observed that approximately two thirds of enrollment event attendees signing up for ACA coverage this year are brand new to the marketplace. He adds that many of those people have been motivated by the effects of the individual mandate—the tax penalty for not having health insurance (the higher of $695 or 2.5 percent of household income for 2016). 

“We’ve had people who suffered the tax fine and said they’re not doing that again, so it is an incentive,” Wheeler said. 

Back on November 1, on the first day of ACA registration and at the first of 12 enrollment events, Wheeler and other volunteers were optimistic, smiling and greeting residents at Overcoming Believers Church. 

“I like to volunteer,” he said. “Looking at the health care situation in Tennessee, I thought it would be the best way to spend my volunteer time.” 

On that first day of open enrollment, most people were applying for the first time, rather than renewing—a sign of things to come. Longtime volunteer Mary said some people expressed apprehension because of things they’ve heard about ACA plans, like increased costs, but they wanted to find out for themselves. 

The next stop was the table organizers have dubbed “Triage.” Volunteers here helped determine a person’s or family’s income and other factors that will affect the coverage they qualify for and its cost. Premium subsidies can reduce a plan’s monthly payment, depending on the applicant’s age, income and tobacco use. 

After the “triage” table, enrollees went down the hall to sit down at a computer with a navigator or certified account counselor to fill out the Healthcare.gov application together. Enrollment assistants Linda and her husband Leo have volunteered since 2013. Linda explained that certain factors can affect what the ACA considers income—just one reason it helps to have in-person assistance.

Linda recommended that uninsured people who think they can’t afford a plan on the ACA still visit Healthcare.gov to preview available plans and estimated subsidies. Even people who have insurance through the marketplace for 2017 are required to revisit the marketplace, as last year’s sole insurance provider has changed for 2018.

In the hall, 6th District City Council representative and former Mayor Daniel Brown spoke with a local TV reporter; this first event and three more at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church are being held in his district. 

“Don’t put it off,” Brown advised Knoxville residents. The sign-up period to get ACA coverage for Jan. 1, 2018, ends on Dec. 15. (You can watch WATE’s news story here.)

Some people who attend enrollment events will not qualify for insurance coverage through the marketplace. In those cases, Wheeler and his team are prepared to suggest other options, including free health and dental clinics. 

Back near the entrance, volunteers talked about visitors who got signed up for coverage with very low monthly payments. One man qualified for a plan covering medical and dental for $16 per month. Successes like this one keep them going. 

Mary’s response illustrates why she shows up to volunteer during open enrollment periods: “I get so excited when someone [finishes with a navigator and] says, ‘I got approved! I got insurance!’” 

For a full list of upcoming enrollment events, visit KnoxvilleTN.gov/ACA. You can also RSVP to one or more of the events on Facebook

Statistics for this article were gathered at CMS.gov.
Posted by ptravis On 29 November, 2017 at 5:32 PM