Health insurers and advocates across Michigan are beefing up call centers, knocking on doors and hosting enrollment fairs this week in a final push to get consumers to sign up for insurance by Monday, the federal deadline for coverage this year.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, virtually all Americans are required to have health insurance in 2014, whether its a subsidized policy purchased from the Health Insurance Marketplace, an employer-provided plan or Medicaid, the federal insurance program for low-income citizens.
Americans who arent insured in 2014 will pay penalties when they file their federal taxes next year. Monday is the deadline to sign up on the insurance exchange to avoid penalties. Coverage will begin May 1 for those who enroll between now and the deadline. Michigans insurance marketplace is located on the federal website, healthcare.gov.
Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, said insurers are expecting a rush on enrollment this week. He said some consumers have delayed enrollment until after filing their 2013 tax returns because they need to know their 2013 income to calculate subsidies they may qualify for.
Im guessing that until everyone goes through the tax process, they dont really know what theyll get for a tax credit, and that affects their decision, Murdock said.
More than 144,500 Michiganians had enrolled for plans on the states marketplace by the end of February, the last accounting issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Thats about 20 percent of an estimated 775,000 Michiganians eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange. About 80 percent qualified for federal tax credits to offset premium costs.
Of Michigans estimated 1.2 million uninsured residents, nearly half a million qualify for expanded Medicaid, the Healthy Michigan Plan that begins April 1. Michigan is among 26 states that agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Starting April 1, residents can go to MiBridges.com for information on how to enroll.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has increased its call-center staff from about 25 to more than 400 and expanded phone hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to keep pace with the volume of calls that officials said could top 40,000 a week in advance of Mondays deadline.
Get Covered America, a health reform education group, trained 400 additional volunteers for the final blitz. The groups more than 2,200 volunteers have already reached out to 86,216 Michiganians, going door-to-door, by phone and at community events.
Connie Alford, 47, of Detroit, signed up for insurance last week at a Cobo Center enrollment fair hosted by the Wayne County Health Department. She was previously uninsured, and didnt consider that a problem because shes pretty healthy. But now that she has health insurance, she said, I might go get a physical.
Terry Burke, vice president of individual business for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said call volumes are three times higher now than before open enrollment began on Oct. 1. He declined to say how many customers have chosen Blue Cross plans, but said about 40 percent are new to Blue and were previously uninsured.
Blue Cross has about 2,000 federally certified agents and brokers, but theyve also hired hundreds of additional customer service representatives to help people enroll.
We had one telephone adviser on the phone with one customer for six hours, to make sure that person got enrolled. On average, it takes about three phone calls before a person makes a decision. This is a big deal, an emotional deal, its changing circumstances, so it should take some time.
Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said about 300,000 Wayne County residents are eligible to purchase insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace. Getting them enrolled is part of the countys economic development strategy, he said.
Once people realize theyre going to actually have medical insurance for the first time in their lives, its going to make a big difference in the quality of life in the county. Weve really pushed this, Ficano said. There are a lot of entrepreneurs wed like to lure to the county.
Garry Miles, a 57-year old Detroit carpenter, also attended a Wayne County enrollment fair last week. Hes an independent contractor, so he had a huge number of jobs to record on his enrollment forms. He didnt have time to finish, so hell need to re-visit healthcare.gov to complete the process.
We had to go through all the jobs Ive had I was with (a counselor) an hour and a half, Miles said of the representative who assisted him at the fair. Im glad I had my tax paper with me.
Health care advocates and insurers are also pushing hard to enroll young people. Because younger people are generally healthy, they are needed to offset the costs of coverage for the elderly and to hold insurance prices down. Most analysts believe that young people have been more inclined to postpone signing up and are expected to turn out in greater numbers in the next week.
■For the 2014 tax year, no penalties will be assessed as long as you enroll for health insurance no later than March 31.
■Under the Affordable Care Act, the penalty for not having minimum essential coverage is either a flat amount, or a percentage of household income, whichever is greater. However, the Obama administration has decided that consumers can hold on to their old insurance plans for two more years, even if the policies dont cover everything.
■Penalties will be capped each year at an amount equal to the national average premium for the lowest cost bronze health plan available through the Marketplace.
■Penalties are assessed based on coverage months, meaning that you owe one-twelfth of the annual penalty for each month you are uninsured. Short spells of being uninsured may not be subject to a penalty.
■Penalties will be phased in over three years, starting with the 2014 tax year, as follows:
2014: The penalty will be the greater of $95 for each adult and $47.50 for each child, up to $285 per family, or 1 percent of family income minus the federal tax filing threshold, which is $10,000 for a person who files singly, $20,000 for somebody who files jointly.
2015: The penalty will be the greater of $325 for each adult and $162.50 for each child, up to $975 per family, or 2 percent of family income above the federal tax filing threshold.
2016: The penalty will be the greater of $695 for each adult and $347.50 for each child, up to $2,085 per family, or 2.5 percent of family income above the federal tax filing threshold. In later years, the flat penalty amounts for 2016 will be indexed based on the cost of living.
Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation