Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Next Monday is the deadline to apply for health care coverage under the affordable care act. Here to give us an update on efforts to enroll Arizonans in the ACA is Cheryl O'Donnell, state director for enroll America. Thanks for joining us.
Cheryl O’Donnell: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: This March 31sy deadline, what kind of deadline?
Cheryl O’Donnell: March 31st is the deadline for individuals to purchase health insurance plans. This will be the last day of the year individuals can purchase health coverage for the rest of the year on healthcare.gov.
Ted Simons: So if you miss this deadline, what's the next deadline?
Cheryl O’Donnell: The next open enrollment period begins November 15th. You will have to wait until then to apply for coverage that will start January 1st of 2015.
Ted Simons: What happens if you miss that deadline and still want coverage? What happens if you miss the deadline, period?
Cheryl O’Donnell: Unfortunately, individuals not eligible for AHCCCS their options are limited. If you miss the Monday deadline you won't be able to buy insurance through individual companies or through the health insurance marketplace. You'll be able to get other types of plans but not federally qualified that meet the requirements for an essential benefit. If you don't get coverage by March 31st you may have to pay a fine.
Ted Simons: That penalty exists? I keep thinking I'm hearing the penalty will be delayed -- the penalty is there.
Cheryl O’Donnell: The penalty is there, yes. Individuals have to get their health coverage by March 31st or else pay a fine. That fine will actually be prorated. Let's say that someone is uninsured but they have a job starting in April, that job will provide them with health coverage. Then they would only have to pay a portion of that fine for the month that they are not covered.
Ted Simons: What kind of fine?
Cheryl O’Donnell: The fine is about $95 per adult in the household. $47.50 for each child, or 1% of the household income. What I like to tell individuals is that really, the biggest penalty of all is not having health coverage in case of an emergency.
Ted Simons: I'm guessing you're starting to see a last-minute crunch here.
Cheryl O’Donnell: Absolutely seeing a real surge in the number of people enrolling. There are over 150,000 people in the stayed of Arizona who have enrolled in health coverage and those numbers are increasing every day.
Ted Simons: Are those more or less than expected?
Cheryl O’Donnell: I actually don't know. From our perspective at enroll America we're trying to reach as many as possible to help them get enrolled. We know there were some challenges in October so the numbers are fantastic numbers. We're actually seeing more people enrolling every day.
Ted Simons: You’re saying you're trying to get more people enrolled. What's being done?
Cheryl O’Donnell: We have different organizations throughout the state, doing a variety of different outreach. This weekend this Saturday we're going to be at south mountain community center with a number of organizations providing information about health insurance as well as assistance in enrollment. At enroll America we're literally calling different households reminding them of the deadline and where they can go for assistance.
Ted Simons: When people actually show up to try to sign up, what are the most common questions?
Cheryl O’Donnell: A lot of individuals wonder how much is this going to cost me? At get covered America.org we have a calculator on our website that individuals can put in basic information about their household, get an estimate of premiums and any financial assistance that they will get.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask about financial assistance. Is it easy to figure out whether or not you will get that financial aid or is it the kind of thing you have to jump through hoops and then figure it out?
Cheryl O’Donnell: You could always use the calculator but also when you go to healthcare.gov and complete an application it will almost instantaneously tell you how much you're eligible for for financial assistance.
Ted Simons: You fill out that information, let's say I go there, I fill it out, I'm done, I press exit or whatever the case may be, am I immediately enrolled? Do I have to wait a day, a week, a month?
Cheryl O’Donnell: When you fill out the application that's just to tell you how much financial assistance you get. You have to go through the plans available on the website and select a plan and enroll in that plan for you to have coverage. Once you've enrolled and paid your first month's premium, then you'll be enrolled in coverage. Let's pretend that someone applied today., completed their application and paid their first month's premium. They would have coverage starting April 1.
Ted Simons: Okay, so it's not exactly immediate but it's the next start of the month?
Cheryl O’Donnell: Yes.
Ted Simons: Who -- we talked about this so many times, but who is eligible?
Cheryl O’Donnell: So individuals basically U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, residents. Anyone that is in the country legally is eligible for services through the Affordable Care Act as well as financial assistance available.
Ted Simons: And again, these are folks -- when you speak to people and when they speak to you do they know, are they even sure they are eligible?
Cheryl O’Donnell: Well, what they are not sure about is whether or not they are eligible for the financial assistance piece. What we're seeing is that about 75% of individuals who are filling out their applications and enrolling in the process are eligible for financial assistance.
Ted Simons: What is the biggest challenge from where you sit and how you deal with people? What is your biggest challenge getting folks covered?
Cheryl O’Donnell: Our biggest challenge is letting them know that costs shouldn't be a barrier. There is financial assistance available there also is expansion of the AHCCCS program. A lot of individuals don't realize that if you're a single adult without children that if your income qualifies you, you could get coverage through AHCCCS.
Ted Simons: Just the expansion of AHCCCS can be confusing to many. How do you get through the clutter there?
Cheryl O’Donnell: That's just getting the word out. Through the various organizations we work with, through the volunteers we have in the state we have gone door to door, stood outside libraries and grocery stores. We're literally calling households to let them know these services are available to them.
Ted Simons: One more time, this last minute crunch, last minute effort, where will you be?
Cheryl O’Donnell: There are events all over the state. Individuals can go to GetCoveredAmerica.org to find events. We will be at south mountain community center this weekend from to helping people fill out their applications.
Ted Simons: If you're just not computer literate and you can't get to healthcare.gov, what do you do?
Cheryl O’Donnell: Call the hotline. You can complete your application over the phone with one of the operators. If you can't get to an event to get someone to help you I would call the hotline number.
Ted Simons: Do you have the number handy?
Cheryl O’Donnell: Unfortunately, I do not.
Ted Simons: Go to healthcare.gov and find out where to call.
Cheryl O’Donnell: Exactly.
Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.