By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
While the 2018 Affordable Care Act (ACA) Open Enrollment on the federal Marketplace ended on December 15, California’s Open Enrollment on its state Marketplace runs until January 31. UnidosUS California Affiliates, like AltaMed located in the Los Angeles area, are working hard to make sure that communities enroll and have access to the quality health care they need.
It’s what they’ve been doing since the first open enrollment period started in 2013.
“We knew that when the ACA was signed by President Obama that this was an opportunity to serve the community,” explains Jazmin Diego, Manager of Legislative & Advocacy Affairs at AltaMed, an UnidosUS Affiliate in Los Angeles, California.
AltaMed is a Federally Qualified Health Center providing care to more than 300,000 residents in Los Angeles and Orange counties through 35 accredited sites and medical groups. The organization offers a variety of services to people of all ages– and predominantly medically underserved or underinsured. AltaMed’s chief concern is working to reduce and eliminate disparities in health care, and they viewed Open Enrollment as a chance to work towards that goal.
During the early days of ACA, AltaMed played a crucial role conducting outreach and enrollment to communities through enrollment events. “Every Saturday and Sunday we had two events, one in LA county and one in Orange county, and we were constantly helping individuals. Lines were out the door,” Diego explains. Their efforts paid off. In 2015 and 2016, the organization enrolled 40,493 and 33,227 respectively.
Despite the fact that the Trump administration slashed the funding for this year’s Open Enrollment period in half, a total of 8.8 million individuals signed up for coverage by the December 15, 2017 deadline in the 39 states relying on HealthCare.gov. In addition, more than 2.5 million have thus far enrolled through seven state-run insurance marketplaces, many of which are still allowing people to sign up over the next few weeks, including California, Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, Washington State, and the District of Columbia.
This is down only slightly from 9.2 million the year before. But some states, such as California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Washington, and Washington, DC, have yet to finish their specific Open Enrollment periods, so the numbers could still rise.
UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING OPEN ENROLLMENT
While AltaMed no longer hosts Open Enrollment events that have the line out the door, Diego notes that the reason for this is because the ACA is a few years old, and people are more aware of their options.
One of the people who went to AltaMed for assistance with Open Enrollment was Maria*, who lives with a pre-existing condition which makes it painful for her to walk. Maria had been working part-time and volunteering, so she did not have health insurance. She was afraid to apply because of the possibility of being rejected due to her pre-existing condition. So when the ACA was signed into law, she was quick to sign up. She has since been able to better self-manage her condition.
As we approached 2018, Maria received a letter from her insurance company explaining that premiums were set to double in the new year. Additionally, the current political climate created a lot of uncertainty about the Open Enrollment period. Because she’d received help from AltaMed in the past, she decided to return to evaluate her options for enrollment.
“You would hear conflicting things about how things were going to change,” Maria explains.
“They explained everything and gave me all my options and it made it a lot less daunting,” Maria says.
Diego also emphasizes that whenever one of their patients begin to ask about efforts to repeal the ACA, they stop them immediately.
“There hasn’t been anything signed, there hasn’t been anything passed, so we can’t say that anything is a done deal,” Diego explains.
THE FINANCIAL BENEFITS OF SIGNING UP FOR HEALTH INSURANCE
Beyond political concerns, people who come to AltaMed looking to enroll in health insurance are often worried that they won’t be able to afford any of the plans being offered.
Patients would ask AltaMed staff why they should come up with an extra $50 or $100 every month to pay insurance fees when they were healthy. Diego explains that this requires AltaMed staff to educate people coming in for help on Open Enrollment about the benefits of signing up for insurance.
“We always explained it in terms of car insurance…sometimes you need it, sometimes you don’t,” Diego continues. “It’s still there in case you do.”
Diego also noted that even though the $50 or $100 allocated to insurance payments every month can seem like a lot, health insurance helps cover certain essential benefits, such as a yearly check-up with a primary care doctor and other key preventive services.
“When you feel you’re getting sick, you can go to the doctor and pay the $15 copayment versus pay the ER,” Diego adds. Visits to a hospital emergency room, especially if they are made frequently, can easily mount to cost hundreds of dollars. As a result, Diego and all AltaMed Staff make an effort to educate everyone who comes through their doors on the options they have available.
As the final 2018 state-run Open Enrollment periods come to a close, we are grateful to our Affiliates, and to all organizations that helped families navigate the enrollment process to get covered. UnidosUS remains committed to defending and advancing the gains we have made in helping more people access timely quality and equitable health care for themselves and their families.
For a list of existing state-run marketplaces still open to enroll individuals into ACA, visit our blog.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality