Health/Science
6:17 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

As Health Insurance Deadline Approaches, Hundreds Flood Local Hospitals For Help

Update, 6 p.m. Monday: KERA's Lauren Silverman has the latest on the looming healthcare deadline:

Interest in the federal health insurance marketplace might have started slowly, but things were racing Monday. The deadline to sign up for 2014 insurance at healthcare.gov is 11:59 p.m.

“We have quite a few people here today,” said Bob Reed, vice president of patient access at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. “Too busy to bean count. … We’ve just been trying to survive a little bit.”

Reed says Parkland started extending its hours two weeks ago, staying open until 9 p.m. And here’s one measure of the last-minute rush: Most days lately, 135 people have come to the main hospital to sign up. By the end of Monday, Parkland estimates 500 people will visit.

In Fort Worth, John Peter Smith hospital expects to help 400 people face-to-face and more than 500 by phone.

One of every four Texans lack insurance – and the state has lagged behind in terms of sign-ups. As of March 1, just 300,000 of the state’s 6 million uninsured had selected a plan on the federal marketplace.

The Obama administration said the 24/7 call center has taken a record number of calls from consumers in the last week – more than 2.5 million calls. That’s compared to 2.4 million for February.

The high traffic has caused some problems on the website, and it’s too late to mail in a paper application.

Folks looking for last-minute help can call the federal call center at 1-800-318-2596.

Original story: Monday is still the deadline to sign up for insurance at healthcare.gov for those wanting to purchase 2014 coverage. More than 295,000 Texans have done this since the marketplace launched on October 1. Compare that number to the 6 million uninsured in our state.

With just a few days left before the deadline, some North Texas sites have more hopefuls than they can manage.

Sergio Gallegos is an organizer for Get Covered America. At the Fort Worth Public Library’s E-Skills Branch Thursday, he guessed about 60 percent of the people who come to enrollment events or sites for help hit their first snag before even filling out the application.

Potential applicants are sent a link via email to verify identity at the beginning of the process. Some don’t have an email account – or if they do, they have trouble accessing it.

"Since we live in the world of smartphones, everybody forgets their password because they put it in once and then forget about it," Gallegos says. "We’re reminding people to just go ahead and make sure they have their password whenever they come see a navigator."

Zola Kirk brought her email password – and a pay stub and an ID. She waited more than an hour at a library table and was the last person to be seen by a navigator at the event Thursday.

Kirk, a childcare worker, says it took her a while to decide. 

"I heard a lot of negative [about the healthcare marketplace] mostly, but then people in my life have told me positive stuff about it, so I’m kind of going with that," she said. "The major thing is that I have no health insurance right now even though I work and I work hard. Even just a few dollars per month is worth it."

Dee Fox was standing by as a volunteer with Organizing for Action who helps with phone banking and scheduling at events. She says she wishes she’d been trained as a navigator because she’s had to send so many people away knowing they won’t be seen by the time an event or venue closes.

But even if every uninsured person had someone to help them apply at healthcare.gov, it doesn't mean they'll get coverage, she says.

"I saw a young lady go through the process and didn’t qualify but probably would qualify for Medicaid and so that was really heartwrenching for me," Fox said. "She needs it but doesn’t qualify through the other normal process and Texas, of course, didn’t accept the Medicaid extension."

Where to find navigators Monday

Parkland Hospital's business office offers help for enrollees until 9 p.m. Monday in Dallas. Learn more here.

John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth is open until 4 p.m. Monday.

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