Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Demand for help spiking as deadline looms to sign up for Obamacare health coverage

Elkhart County-area health care reps say more and more are seeking help ahead of the March 31 insurance sign-up deadline.

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 7:12 p.m.

BRISTOL — With the deadline looming to sign up for health care coverage offered on the Obamacare marketplace exchange, local health care representatives are being walloped with inquiries.

"Literally just since Monday, the phone has been non-stop," said Krystal Anderson, who assists those trying to sign up for care at Heart City Health Center of Elkhart.

Sondra Gardetto, manager of health insurance services at Mishawaka-based St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, or SJRMC, also reported an uptick in requests for help. Menessah Nelson, another Heart City representative, said she's been "completely swamped."

The Obamacare mandate requiring individuals to have health care insurance went into effect Jan. 1, and those hoping to get coverage via the exchange have until March 31 to sign up. That's spurred last-minute insurance seekers to contact Heart City and SJRMC, among others, and a panel of experts touched on the issue Thursday, March 20, at a presentation sponsored by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

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Nelson said the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 64,972 in Indiana had enrolled in marketplace plans as of March 1, up from 47,735 on Feb. 1. Nationwide, 4.2 million had signed up as of March 1, up from 3.3 million a month earlier, and the HHS reported Monday that the figure has reached 5 million.

The growth notwithstanding, the figures lag earlier expectations and hopes. Nationwide, the Congressional Budget Office had projected 7.07 million enrolled by the end of March, a stretch to reach. Despite the increase in the Indiana figure, Nelson noted that there's a pool of 238,000 in Indiana who could potentially access coverage via the exchange.

Care available on the exchange — a key element of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act — is geared to part-time workers, the working poor and others who don't get coverage through their employers, among others. The exchange is accessible via www.healthcare.gov, the website that rolled out Oct. 1 last year to a storm of criticism because of its many technical flaws, since addressed, at least partially.

"DRAMATIC CHANGE"?

Obamacare has been the focus of much criticism, notably from Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who view the health care overhaul as costly and government overreach.  The panelists Thursday, speaking at Elcona Country Club, alluded to the controversy, at least indirectly.

Gardetto referenced elections in 2016 and, obliquely, the possibility of a majority getting elected that is unfriendly to Obamacare. "We're going to see what happens after 2016. We'll see what happens, stay tuned," she said. "Definitely things are shifting in this environment."

Whatever the outcome in 2016, Paula Wood of the Michiana Society of Human Resource Management suspects many elements of Obamacare will stick around. She pointed to a popular change allowing parents to keep their kids on their insurance plans until the age of 26.

"I don't think the whole thing would be repealed," said Brian Steiner of Physicians Health Plan of Northern Indiana, one of four firms offering care in northern Indiana via the exchange. He also spoke Thursday.

Still, depending on the outcome in 2016, there could be "dramatic change," he said.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.




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