No Bull, No Fluff, No Smudges
Your news source for
Flagler, Florida and Beyond

With 3 Weeks To Go, Consumers Fear Ending Up Without Health Coverage On New Year’s

| December 2, 2013

Countdown to uncertainty. (Charles Comstock)

Countdown to uncertainty. (Charles Comstock)

Tambra Momi has been eagerly awaiting the promise of guaranteed health insurance. Since 2011, she has battled Dercum’s disease, a rare and painful condition in which non-cancerous tumors sprout throughout her body, pressing against nerves. Jobless and in a wheelchair, Momi needs nine different drugs, including one costing $380 a month, to control the pain and side effects. No insurer has been willing to cover her, she says, except a few that have taken her money and then refused to pay for her medications.

Click On:

Yet her effort to sign up for the health law’s coverage has been painful in its own way. Momi, a resident of Fort Mohave, Ariz., hasn’t been able to complete an application on the federal website. Three attempts to submit an application over the phone haven’t panned out. Once when she called back, she says she was told they had no record of the application. Another time, officials told her they could see the application but couldn’t open it.

“I was so elated with this whole thing,” Momi, 46, says about the health insurance marketplace, “and now I’m praying to God that I’ll be able to get something.”

Enrollment has been open since Oct. 1, but hitches such as those that Momi encountered have put many people behind schedule. The next three weeks are critical for consumers keen on getting health coverage as soon as the health law allows it on Jan. 1. People who desire coverage by then need to sign up in the new marketplaces no later than Dec. 23. Consumers can still enroll up to the end of March, but their coverage will begin later.

For people in the states with well-functioning insurance websites, such as California, New York and Kentucky, this appears to leave plenty of time. But making the deadline could be dicier for people in Arizona and the 35 other states where the federal website is the path to coverage, as well as Oregon and Hawaii, which have struggled to get their sites functioning. On Sunday, the government reported progress in improving, saying the site now allows more than 800,000 visits a day with the rate of timeouts or crashes reduced to below 1 percent. Officials said repairs continue.

The technological trials for these websites have turned an enrollment period that was supposed to be a leisurely three-month stroll into a last-minute sprint for millions of Americans. “The challenge ahead is you have a lot of people who need to get into the system,” said Sarah Lueck, an analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank that focuses on issues related to low- and moderate-income people.

Prompt Enrollment Threatened

Within the Obama administration, concern is great enough about accommodating everyone who wants coverage by the first of the year that officials pushed back the deadline from its original date of Dec. 15.

Prompt enrollment is urgent for people in several circumstances. Some have no coverage, either because they haven’t been able to afford it or, like Momi, because they have pre-existing medical issues that led insurers to reject them in the past. Some have insurance that is going to expire. That group includes people whose health plans have been canceled and those in a high-risk pool that is closing. For people with serious medical issues, such as cancer patients in the middle of treatment, the loss of coverage could be medically and financially devastating.

Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a New York health care foundation, predicts two waves of people will try to sign up for plans in the first half of December: those who had tried to shop on the websites but were stymied by technological glitches and those who were able to look at plans but didn’t settle on one.

For those who wait until the Dec. 23 deadline — either by choice or because they encountered difficulties—insurers will have just a week to process the applications before people can start filing claims. Robert Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant, says insurers generally need two weeks to add newly covered people into their computer systems. “The chances are we’re going to see lots of customer service problems,” he says.

‘Nobody Knows What Accident They Can Be In’

Sandra Fox, a psychiatric social worker in Pittsburgh, has been trying to buy insurance through the marketplace since the day it opened at the beginning of October. After many failed attempts to get on, she succeeded. But the website said she and her husband, an artist, are not eligible for a government subsidy while she believes they are. (Based on information she provided, KHN calculated they are eligible for a $292 monthly subsidy.)  She was told to mail a written appeal, but despite sending it off Nov. 1, her case remains unresolved.

Fox’s husband goes to a pain clinic and uses medication for his spinal stenosis. She fears if they are not enrolled in new insurance when their current policy lapses at the end of the year, they will have to pay out-of-pocket.  “It would be extremely expensive,” she says. “And nobody knows what accident they can be in tomorrow. I don’t think it’s wise to be without insurance for one day, frankly.”

Early mix-ups occurred in the launch of the last major federal health expansion, the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. People were supposed to sign up by Dec. 31, 2005, to start using the benefit when coverage began on Jan. 1, 2006. But that turned out to not leave enough time for Medicare to process all the enrollments.  “There were all these stories about people showing up to pharmacies and the pharmacies not having the seniors in the systems,” said Sabrina Corlette, who directs the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University. “And the seniors walked away empty handed because Medicare hadn’t transferred the information.”

Momi’s pain is so intense from her disease, formally known as adiposis dolorosa, that any delay would be agonizing. “I have lipomas, fatty tumors that grow throughout my body,” she says. “They’re attacking through my spine, my internal organs. My nervous system is actually growing through them. You can see them.”

She drives monthly to Las Vegas, more than 100 miles north of Fort Mohave, to see her doctor. He wants to install a pain pump for a new medicine from sea snail venom, but it’s so expensive she has had to delay the surgery. “My doctor is helping me so much I can’t even begin to tell you,” she says, crying. “I pay him what I can pay him.”

No one knows how many people might still be clamoring for coverage at the cusp of Christmas. When Massachusetts launched its health insurance exchanges, the big spike in enrollment did not occur when the program began in 2007; it occurred when the financial penalty for not signing up kicked in that December, according to a study by Harvard professor Amitabh Chandra and other researchers.

For the federal law, the comparable time is the close of the enrollment period at the end of March. After that, people without health coverage face tax penalties of $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, unless they meet the criteria for exemptions. Chandra, however, notes that there are differences from Massachusetts’ experience that make it less than a perfect comparison. For one, the Massachusetts penalty was higher than the federal health law’s penalty in the first year. On the other side, he noted that more people in the United States are aware of the health law’s penalty “because we’ve had a four-year fight about [the law]; nothing like this had happened in Massachusetts.”

Laszewski says the political controversy over the rules may have left consumers confused. “Is my policy really canceled? What do all these objections from insurance commissioners really mean? The consumer is left in the lurch trying to figure out what is going on,” he says.

Kirsten Sloan, a policy director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, says that is not the case with those most desperate for medical care. “Many people living with cancers and survivors who have been waiting, they know these deadlines,” she said.

–Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

14 Responses for “With 3 Weeks To Go, Consumers Fear Ending Up Without Health Coverage On New Year’s”

  1. Latesia says:

    MMMMMMMMMMM……Obama………Our Hero !!!!! Now where’s my FREE health care ?

    • John Boy says:

      Nobody promised you free heath care, if you Tea Baggers had not obstructed and had a plan of your own things may have worked differently and better. I hope you are one of the ones without health care because with your self serving and condescending attitude you and all your Tea Party friends don’t need any government help or regulations.

      • Genie says:

        @ John Boy: Take a gander at this.

        It is a patient centered plan from the Republicans. And FYI, as soon as you say “Tea Bagger”, most stop reading and move on to the next comment.

        • Geezer says:

          If you simply said that you can’t trust our corrupt government, most sane people would agree.
          Providing a link to a propaganda page only shows how easy to brainwash you are.
          It is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, my pet.

          You can certainly do better than that.

          • Genie says:

            @ Geezer: I agree with your first sentence. However, the FACTS ARE that the other side is attempting fixes and they are NOT being accepted, not even getting past Reid.

            Brainwashed? I don’t think so, not when I am attempting to correct propaganda misstatements.

            Make your own choices about what you support. There are options out there you are not hearing about.

            • Geezer says:

              The only truth is that the insurance companies and the banks are running the show.
              Propaganda is propaganda. Both sides are full of poop.

              I support Medicare open enrollment. Not happening.
              You SHOULD be able to choose any doctor you please.

              I dream of Genie with the light brown hair! :)

  2. rst says:

    As if a slow start is a sign of things to come. Come on people! Do you really think that providing affordable healthcare to our citizens is a bad idea? If so, have you studied our healthcare system and how it came about? If not, please do so before jumping on the bandwagon of political hatred just because Fox news told you so. Give it a chance for a year or so, and if it doesn’t work make the necessary changes and move on. Quit being haters and read a book to qualify yourself as knowledgeable on the subject. My guess is you might have a different opinion when you find out the facts.

  3. bruce meyer says:

    I can;nt afford it, where is the affordable part.

  4. fruitcake says:

    Oh Well…… nothing in life is FREE!

  5. A.S.F. says:

    I guess all those people in countries with national health care systems are just deadbeats and liberals and welfare queens subsisting on a handout from their poor benighted countrymen. Other countries around the world with more civilzed attitudes towards healthcare must really think we’re (a) nuts, or (b) just plain avaricious and mean.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well said A.S.F.

    • Genie says:

      @ ASF: I can’t speak for them, but I am still wondering why this new plan is so expensive, more expensive than those other countries.

      Can you tell me? I thought this was supposed to be CHEAPER? I also thought I’d be able to keep my own doctor. NOT HAPPENING.

      • Anonymous says:

        @Genie says–No one said it was going to be cheaper for everyone. For many people, it will. For many less fortunate people, it will be the more insurance than they ever had before, which for far too many people was absolutely nothing. If we didn’t try to please so many private insurer groups, pharmaceutical companies, doctors lobbies and REPUBLICANS, we could have (and should have) pushed for more negotiation power as per the cost of medical services, supplies, pharmaceuticals, doctors–the way we did with Medicare. As for healthcare being cheaper in other countries, I thought part of the argument Neo-Conservatives were using in their inexhaustible attempts to defeat, then repeal, ACA was that we would ending up “TAXING EVERYBODY TO DEATH LIKE THEY DO IN ALL THOSE COUNTRIES THAT HAVE NATIONAL HEALTHCARE. So, make up your mind–Which argument do you want to make?

  6. Geezer says:

    As you argue amongst yourselves, your government gleefully screws you.
    Divide and conquer!

Leave a Reply

Read FlaglerLive's Comment Policy | Subscribe to the Comment Feed rss flaglerlive comment feed rss

More stories on FlaglerLive


support flaglerlive palm coast flagler county news pierre tristam
fcir florida center for investigative reporting
FlaglerLive is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization | P.O. Box 254263, Palm Coast, FL 32135 | Contact the Editor by email | (386) 586-0257 | Sitemap | Log in