As the March 31st deadline for Americans to enroll in health care has come and gone, early estimates indicate that more than 7 million Americans successfully signed up for coverage, despite problems and long wait times.
Sherry Hay, UNC Family Medicine Director of Community Health Initiatives, says her department and community partners have been working to help locals sign up for health care since open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act began on October 1 of last year.
On Monday, Hay says UNC Family Medicine was still taking calls and answering people’s questions about enrolling for health care.
“Through the month of March, we tried to do a variety of events— some more global type of community events with other partners such as UNC General Internal Medicine and others in the community, to scheduling patients around their medical appointments here at family medicine to see a certified application counselor,” Hay says.
The last-minute rush before Monday’s midnight deadline was a headache for some, as people reported call wait times of more than two hours and constant glitches with the HealthCare.gov website. Such problems have plagued the system since its debut.
“During these tight times when we are all dependent on the system, it is really frustrating, and people were frustrated by that when it didn’t operate as it should,” Hay says.
Still, federal officials estimated that about 2 million Americans were able to successfully enroll in the two weeks leading up to the deadline.
According to data released in February, Hay says it was estimated that more than 200,000 North Carolinians had enrolled through the federal health care exchanges.
In 2013, 1.5 million people in North Carolina were uninsured.
“It has been an interesting change in healthcare, one of the biggest in decades. There was no state agency that was necessarily deemed the agency to be responsible for the change,” Hay says.
All people, with few exceptions, are required to have health insurance. People who are already covered by health insurance through a private provider are not required to change coverage.
Citizens who can afford health insurance but did not purchase it by the March 31 deadline will be fined $95.
However, the enrollment period has been extended for those who began the application but were unable to finish.
“The Obama Administration did release that if someone had started the process by midnight [on March 31st], they will have until April 15th to complete the application process,” she says.
Now that this open enrollment period has ended, Hay says UNC Family Medicine and its partners will regroup, assess what went well and what didn’t in helping to get people signed up and focus on the next open enrollment, which begins in November and runs through February of 2015.