Deadline extended for affordable health insurance

Lorain Watters, Assistant News Editor

A special enrollment period has been issued by the Obama administration, granting individuals an opportunity to submit an application for affordable health care after the assigned deadline on March 31.

Based on an honor system, individuals can be granted an extension by checking a box marked “special enrollment.” This means that individuals tried to sign up before the deadline, but could not due to technical problems with the website, not having access to the Internet, or other various reasons.

The last day to submit paper applications is April 7. Those who submit an application through healthcare.gov have been given until mid-April. A final date was not released as a deadline for when electronic applications will be accepted. After this time period, applicants will need to request an extension through a federally sponsored call center.

Roy Ortega, community relations director for Project Amistad, a non-profit that helps the elderly and disabled with transpiration, has been helping El Pasoans sign up for affordable health care in coalition with Enroll El Paso, encourages them not to wait until the last minute to sign up.

“Agencies like ours were contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services to assist uninsured people. Most of them have been doing it on their own, securing their own policies via the marketplace,” Ortega said. “We encourage residents to obtain their health insurance as quickly as possible. For one reason or another, if they can’t do it on their own or over the phone, we are here to help.”

Through federal legislation by the Obama administration, every American is required to have health insurance.

If an uninsured resident does not enroll for healthcare, the maximum penalty will be $95 a year, or 1 percent of their total income, whichever is higher. This penalty fee will increase every year they are not insured.

Chris Hernandez, field organizer for “Get Covered America,” has been working with El Pasoans since the beginning and has seen an increase in applicants as the deadline
has approached.

“This last week was very long and busy. Just Friday (March 28) alone we had 1,000 people sign up at the County Coliseum. It was our biggest event,” Hernandez said. “That gives you an idea of how many people are signing up, not including the healthcare website—which has also been experiencing some major traffic.”

The marketplace announced on March 27 that six million Americans had signed up for affordable health care. That number is expected to increase after the deadline.

“Those who did not make the deadline can still sign up at healthcare.gov or attend the enrollment events that Enroll El Paso will be having throughout the week,” Hernandez said.

Although this special enrollment extension will allow many an opportunity to sign up for affordable care, some are still hesitant to
obtain insurance.

Fernando Enriquez, senior studio art major and ad designer at Student Publications, has received his medical needs from the Centro San Vicente clinic by signing up every year for their services. Each visit only costs $20 if you qualify.

However, because of the demands from school and work, he has not been able to go back and sign up.

“I have a low-income, so now I just plan on never getting sick or hack it if I do and hope that it goes away on its own,” Enriquez said. “I buy over-the-counter medications and if I continue my ways in taking care of myself, then that’s more money in my pocket to use for something else instead of paying for this insurance.”

Enriquez plans on using the special enrollment extension for affordable care, seeing it as something he can fall back on should he get sick.

“If I have the time, I’ll sign up for it, but I’m not going to rely on it,” he said.

Enroll El Paso will host an enrollment event in partnership with Project Vista on Tuesday, April 1 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Montana Vista Clinic.

For future enrollment events, visit enrollelpaso.org.

To sign up for affordable health care, visit healthcare.gov. For Spanish speakers, visit cuidadodesalud.gov.

For those who cannot sign up in person at the enrollment events or online, call centers will be open 24/7 to help individuals apply at 1-800-318-2596.

Lorain Watters may be reached at [email protected]