Colorado Joins Health Insurance Sprint
DENVER (AP) – Some were excited to get health insurance, and others just wanted to avoid federal fines as Colorado joined the national sprint on the final day to meet the new health insurance mandate.
Colorado saw brisk lines at in-person signup sites and planned to man phone banks until midnight to get people to sign up for coverage. Despite the heavy traffic, Colorado seemed to avoid technical glitches that plagued the federally run insurance site Monday.
The crowd stretched out the door Monday at a Denver shop that was converted to a health care enrollment site. The mood was generally upbeat, despite the 90-minute line.
“It’s my own fault for procrastinating. I knew it would be like this,” said Dionne Gilbert, a 51-year-old Denver woman who hasn’t had health insurance in about 15 years.
Gilbert said she tried signing up online but found it confusing and decided to wait for personal help on the final day. She said she didn’t mind the wait.
“I have not had a physical in over 15 years. I told myself, ‘You need to do this. Your daughter loves you and needs you,'” said Gilbert, whose employer does not provide insurance.
Kevin Knapp is a small business owner who signed up for Health Insurance in February.
“They did an automatic withdrawal out of my checking account so their billing seems to be on track,” said Knapp.
He spent Monday morning on the phone with Connect For Health Colorado because as the deadline looms he’s not sure if he and his employees are actually covered.
“No health insurance cards have showed up, I have no paperwork saying I have coverage starting tomorrow,” said Knapp.
Colorado has already exceeded baseline federal goals for enrollment through its state-run insurance exchange, called Connect For Health Colorado.
CEO of Connect For Health Colorado, Patty Fontno says the spike in calls and long lines is to be expected.
“As the waits start to get longer our biggest initiative will be to get people started,” said Fontno.
As of mid-March, 106,000 Coloradans had signed up for private insurance since the exchange opened in October. Another 151,000 had enrolled in Medicaid. The state has an estimated 740,000 people without health insurance.
Colorado’s low-end goal was 75,000 private signups by the end of the year. Colorado’s midrange goal was 136,000 private signups by the end of the year.
Colorado planned to announce a final tally on Tuesday of the total open enrollment period, which ran from October to March. People who didn’t start signing up for private insurance by midnight must wait until the end of the year unless they have a life-changing event such as a new job.
Exchange spokesman Ben Davis said Monday that Colorado was seeing a last-minute enrollment surge, but wasn’t so crushed that enrollments were held up.
“It’s been all hands on deck now for five days,” Davis said.
Those waiting in line at the Denver store expressed varying levels of excitement about the process.
“I don’t have much money, but I have to do it to comply,” said 60-year-old Ed Pens, an Aurora bricklayer who came to sign up in person after giving up on buying insurance by phone Sunday.
He hung up “after four hours,” said Pens, shaking his head.
If people miss the deadline, not only will they lose coverage for 2014 but there could be financial penalties.
“Either $95 or one percent of their income, whichever is higher,” said Fontno.
“We have been at this since January,” said Virginia Sotelo, a 54-year-old Denver woman who waited for help with her husband.
The Sotelos signed up for an insurance plan earlier this year but canceled it because they couldn’t afford it. They decided to wait for in-person help.
“It’s been a big headache without health insurance,” Virginia Sotelo said. “We’ve shelled out a lot for health care. And the marketplace for health insurance has been a nightmare, but I’m optimistic it’ll be over and done with today. At the end of the day, we’re going to have insurance, so that’s a good thing.”
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