Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll learn about efforts to sign people up for medical insurance before an upcoming deadline in the Affordable Care Act. The Phoenix symphony's Michael Christie talks about conducting a prize-winning opera set for broadcast this week here on PBS. And we'll see how ASU's Tempe campus is a surprising source for fruits and vegetables. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."
Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizonans thinking of getting health insurance by way of the Health Care Marketplace are facing a December 23rd deadline to ensure coverage by January 1st. A campaign titled "Get Covered America," is underway to sign folks up before that deadline. For more, we welcome Pati Urias of Enroll America - Arizona. Thank you for being here.
Pati Urias: Thank you.
Ted Simons: What is Get Covered America?
Pati Urias: The campaign that is nationwide and focused primarily in different states, such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia. There are a number of states where we are going out to the public and reaching out to people who we believe may be uninsured and talking to them about what their options might be. We go to farmers' markets, grocery stores, college campuses. Places where people may gather where we believe that a large majority of them may need some information when it comes to signing up for health coverage.
Ted Simons: Basically set up a table or have people just standing around with pamphlets and information, those sorts of things?
Pati Urias: That sort of thing, yeah, absolutely. It is very basic, low-tech, but we have people that set up tables at public libraries, places like that, where we will ask them are you covered? And if you're not, would you like some information? Let's talk to you about what you may be able to benefit from under the health care marketplace and we give them information about how to get in touch with people who can help them enroll if they have questions about what they might need to do.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask. Are there people with Get Covered America standing by on telephones to answer calls or is it a proactive, get out in the community kind of thing?
Pati Urias: It is really more of a proactive educational effort. We reach out to people -- a lot of people say yeah, I know a little about the health care law and I know that even though I have diabetes I might be able to get some type of health coverage but I don't know the first idea about what to do. How do I get some help? What we do is hopefully get in touch with those people or talk to those people or see them in a public place where we can give them the information and say okay, here are some options. Here are the things that are different about the new types of insurance plans and we help them get in touch with application assisters or navigators who can help them take that next step, get information from them, and help them sign up and choose a type of plan that might fit their needs.
Ted Simons: Is there a typical person with typical questions? When you see someone walking toward the table, can you say we see a lot of that kind of person.
Pati Urias: You know, it really varies. A lot of people that we see are people who didn't know. They've heard some sort chatter about health care law and they don't really know a lot about what's out there. A lot of those people will be like “Yeah, I've heard about this. Give me more information.” So we get in touch with a lot of people like that. We hear from people who have the preexisting conditions that haven't been able to get coverage and some of them probably gave up years ago. We also hear from people who may have recently been laid off, but may have some resources to get them through for a little bit but may not be ready to look into a Medicaid program. They're looking at different ways that they might be able to cover their families either for a gap period or for some other purposes that they've decided to go into business for themselves, work on contract, that sort of thing. It does vary. For the most part, there are people who are just interested in finding out more.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask that. Are these folks, are their questions more of a -- I really don't know anything about this, but I've heard I better get involved? Or I heard a lot about this, I'm completely confused, help me.
Pati Urias: A little bit of both.
Ted Simons: Is there, yeah.
Pati Urias: We get a lot of people who are confused. We do our best to try to answer any kinds of questions they may have. For example, someone may say, well, I heard that I probably don't qualify. You don't know that until you have gone through the steps to learn about it. We have a web site, GetCoveredAmerica.org, and there is a calculator on the site to help people determine what they may qualify for, what their tax benefit would be for signing up under a certain type of plan. We also have tools on the web site that will help people get in touch with local people who can help them. Maybe there’s an assister lives or works at an office two blocks away from where you work or from home where you can stop by and get more information or have them sit down with you and go step by step through the process.
Ted Simons: Your health care site works?
Pati Urias: It is HealthCare.gov, and in Arizona, the federal marketplace is running the exchange for us. And we have seen an uptick in the number of people who have applied for health care. Initially in the month of October, we were looking at numbers just over 700, which was remarkable considering that the web site was down much of the time. What we've seen in the month of November and consider that the web site really wasn't functioning well until the very end of the month, 3,600 people. So we're seeing quite a few people now able to access information about the plans, choosing a plan, and selecting one that they can have so that they have coverage by January 1st.
Ted Simons: That uptick, or surge, if you will, in numbers seems to coincide with national numbers as well. Is it because the web site seems to have settled down? Is it because people realize there is a deadline for this first go-round?
Pati Urias: From what we understand, it is a little bit of both. People rarely sign up for something, okay, you have this much time to sign up for something. Okay, October 1st through December – mid-December is the time period that you have to sign up so that you can get coverage by the 1st of January. We rarely see people starting -- and I'm guilty of this, too, wait until December rolls around and then I will sign up. We have seen that type of trend in other types of programs where people were having to meet a specific deadline. People tend to go toward the latter part or closer to the deadline when it comes to signing up.
Ted Simons: And they get more frantic, I'm sure as the deadline approaches. If you have questions, if you are confused, you have less time to figure it out.
Pati Urias: That's right. That's right. So that's why we're really stepping up our efforts right now to get out the public. You have less than two weeks if you want to get January 1st coverage. The marketplace is open until the end of March. If you have a preexisting condition, perhaps waiting for years, some people may have been waiting years to get coverage because they have high blood pressure or have had a heart attack in the past and have been denied coverage under a private plan before, for a lot of those people, they can't wait and so they need to know that that deadline is the 23rd of December.
Ted Simons: For people confused right now, December 23rd deadline ensures coverage by January -- on January 1st.
Pati Urias: That's correct.
Ted Simons: What happens if you miss the deadline, is there another enrollment period? You mentioned the March thing, but, I mean, will people be penalized if they don't have insurance come January 1st? Is that the March deadline? What happens at the end of March if you don't have the insurance? A lot of dates coming up here.
Pati Urias: Right, right. I think it is easy to get confused by the number of dates out there. We try to focus on here is our next deadline which is the 23rd, if you need coverage by January 1st. If you don't meet the deadline to get January 1st coverage, you can continue to enroll, and then your plan will start the following month depending upon whether you meet a specific deadline each month. For example, if you enroll by January 15th, your coverage will start the 1st of February. So, you have to meet those 15th of the month deadlines. When we talk about penalties, a lot of people will say I will just pay the fee. I'll just pay it. The greater fee comes when say, for example, and I know of a number of cases -- I thought it was initially a coincidence. I had a young friend who was hit by a car, and he didn't have insurance. $15,000 in hospital bills. And I saw him in the hallway at a theater one time, and he -- he said to me, he said, I'm still getting hospital bills. And then another one, and then another one. I met a couple of different kids running into the same situation. The greater penalty is not the $95 fee or one percent, it is that penalty that you will have to pay if you get an emergency room bill and you don't have insurance.
Ted Simons: Again, the 23rd of December means that come January 1st, you're done. If you want to chance it for two weeks, January 15th -- chance it for four weeks, I guess, you can do that. It doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense when it is waiting there for you right now. What is the web site that people need to go to to get more information?
Pati Urias: To get more information, you can go to www.GetCoveredAmerica.org, and there are a number of tools and places to go to find a local assister in your area.
Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.
Pati Urias: Good to see you. Thank you.