Health Care Enrollment Deadline Looms in Delaware - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Health Care Enrollment Deadline Looms in Delaware

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(Photo: MGN) (Photo: MGN)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP)- The clock was ticking Monday for Delaware residents who waited until the last minute to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
    
With the open enrollment period for Delaware's health insurance exchange expiring at midnight Monday, officials urged those who had not yet signed up for health care coverage to do so.
    
Health and Social Services officials said residents could get help enrolling in the exchange at 20 locations across the state Monday. Those included St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, where "marketplace guides" with Brandywine Women's Health Associates were standing by to help right up to the midnight deadline.
    
"I've got my energy drink," said marketplace guide Hubert Worthen, who was planning to work all day Monday. "This is epic, man."
    
As a television in the hospital cafe showed Vice President Joe Biden talking to television talk show host Rachael Ray about the importance of signing up for health insurance, Worthen had his laptop set up at a nearby table, helping people navigate the enrollment process. By late Monday morning he had helped four people. Two required additional information, one found out he was eligible for Medicaid and the fourth, a self-employed man in his late 30s who declined to be interviewed, enrolled in the insurance exchange.
    
"He's very happy," said Worthen, who could not provide further details about the man. "He has heard such negative things, and he really couldn't believe what he got. He's ecstatic."
    
While marketplace guides were stationed at health clinics, state service centers and libraries throughout the state, Delawareans also could enroll on their own by going online to www.HealthCare.gov.
    
The federal government enrollment website Delawareans must use experienced a disastrous launch last fall and was unavailable for several hours early Monday, the final day of open enrollment for coverage this year. State officials said people who create an online account by the Monday midnight deadline but do not complete the enrollment process will have until mid-April to do so.
    
Enrollment in Delaware's exchange and in similar exchanges across the country got off to a slow start in October, primarily because of technical problems with the federal health insurance website, but has grown steadily since then.
    
Delaware officials initially had hoped to enroll 35,000 of the roughly 90,000 uninsured Delaware residents for coverage, but federal officials set a much lower target last fall of 8,000 enrollments. State Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said last week that the state had hit and exceeded the federal benchmark.
    
But officials were waiting to see whether there will be a last-minute surge of enrollments Monday, or whether people will decide to risk paying a federal penalty for not having health insurance. The penalty starts this year at $95 per person or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater, but climbs steadily to $695 per person or 2.5 percent of household income by 2016.
    
Landgraf said last week that she expects enrollment will grow as the penalty increases.
    
"I think some people are saying if that penalty is only 95 dollars, ... I'll just hedge my bets right now and see how this thing goes," Landgraf said.
    
"I do think that the challenges in the beginning really impacted people's confidence," she added, referring to the early technical problems with the federal website.
    
No matter how many Delawareans enroll in the state's health insurance exchange, officials have no way of knowing how many of them were previously uninsured. The central premise of the Affordable Care Act was to help uninsured people buy health insurance, but the enrollment process did not provide a way for determining how many applicants were uninsured, or how many were simply trading plans.
    
"I think there's been a missed opportunity there," Landgraf acknowledged.

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