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ObamaCare deadline a week away

By Jennifer Hall, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 24--The deadline to enroll in the health insurance exchange is a week away. And like taxes, many have waited until the last minute to get in.

"There has been an enormous, accelerated interest in the exchange recently," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Family USA, a nonprofit consumer health care advocacy organization.

The marketplace got off to a rocky start last fall with a defective website that took more than a month to fix. Once the issues were resolved, participants hit the ground running. In the last month, there has been an even larger influx.

As of March 17, 5 million people have enrolled in a marketplace plan, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. These figures don't include sign-ups outside of the marketplace, including Medicaid or Medicare.

"I think young adults are going to come in in significant numbers," Mr. Pollack said.

He is optimistic of how the Affordable Care Act disproportionately helps young adults with the tax premium subsidies for out-of-pocket costs.

An important factor is that they are provided on a sliding scale. Hence, those with the lowest income are receiving the greatest subsidies.

Mr. Pollack said younger people tend to be in one of three situations: continuing education, looking for a job, or at their first job and not making a lot of money.

In the months leading up to the open enrollment, Tyler Graff provided information to college-aged adults.

"When you think insurance, you think sick," said the certified application counselor at Northwest Health Services.

It's a misconception he wants to debunk. In his emergency room experience, he has seen 20-somethings come in after an auto accident with no insurance and leave with large medical bills.

"It's something that can ruin you financially," he said. "There are catastrophic plans. Premiums are low and deductibles are high. But it's a safeguard. It's for those unfortunate things that happen."

Mr. Graff, who also is an outreach and education specialist for NHS, said there has been a steady flow of participants since the relaunch of the website. In the beginning, he said it was people 45 to 55.

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In recent weeks, "it's been all over the place," but mainly an influx of younger people, many in their early 30s.

Mr. Graff said some parents don't have insurance, so young adults are coming in for their own insurance. Young couples with children also are coming in.

An event Saturday was designed to provide information on the insurance program and get people in St. Joseph signed up before the deadline. Janet Tinker, who signed up for insurance under the ACA on Saturday, said she had been without health insurance for roughly four years. She worked part-time jobs that either did not provide coverage or did not pay her enough for her to afford it.

"I think it was very beneficial that I was able to come here to get on the website myself," she said. "I tried before and always got kicked off. They actually took the time to walk me through it."

According to the Affordable Care Act, if a plan covers children, they can be added to or kept on a parent's health insurance policy until they turn 26. This includes children who are married, not living with their parents, attending school, not financially dependent on their parents or eligible to enroll in their employer's plan.

"Young adults will find premiums that they previously thought were too high are, in fact, much lower," Mr. Pollack said. "Now it becomes a matter of value for them. If young adults feel the costs are reasonable, they'll think it's a good idea."

While purchasing insurance coverage from the Missouri Health Insurance Exchange can be done on your own, support is available. Northwest Missouri residents can find a navigator within a local coalition that includes InterServ, Heartland Health, NHS and the University of Missouri Extension Office.

There are four tiers of health plans: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Each pays a certain percentage of medical expenses. It's a la carte to some degree, and most plans can be customized.

Mr. Graff said appointment slots are filled, so he is encouraging people to call and do the application over the phone. With questions, call (816) 232-6818. Those who are computer-savvy may be able to do it on their own, he adds.

Jennifer Hall can be reached at jenn.hall@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHall.

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(c)2014 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

Visit the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) at www.newspressnow.com/index.html

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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