There’s No Shutting This Down

Many people have been asking whether the federal government shutdown, caused by a small group of Affordable Care Act opponents, will delay the roll-out of health insurance options for millions of Texans.  The quick and dirty answer is NO. The shutdown does not delay the Health Insurance Marketplace or any other part of the law.

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Texas breast cancer survivor Katherine says the Affordable Care Act saved her family’s finances and her life. Millions more will be helped now that the law’s making it possible for more of them to get covered.

That’s really good news, because the demand among Texans for new affordable health coverage options is great. With millions of people visiting the Healthcare.gov Marketplace website in the first two days of open enrollment, things haven’t gone perfectly, and some people have experienced technical glitches that prevented their being able to complete the online application process. Still, people who want to enroll have until December 15 to sign up for coverage that would go into effect on the first day possible: January 1, 2014. After about 50 years worth of anticipation and demand by Americans waiting for this country to finally catch up with the rest of the industrialized world, the moment to enroll is finally here, and the response has been overwhelming.

With any new major system roll-out, technical issues are common and to be expected, and people need to be encouraged to just keep trying back while the administration works quickly to resolve them.

But, there are other ways people can and should connect to the Marketplace.  People can find local in-person application assisters in their community (some are listed at localhelp.healthcare.gov).  Some communities, like Houston, have banded together and stepped out in front of potential logistical challenges, by setting up local call centers to refer callers to neighborhood locations such as libraries and clinics for application assistance.

People can also call the Marketplace hotline at 1-800-318-2596. In fact, I just did, and my call was answered in under one minute.  Impressive!

As a reminder, the full open enrollment period extends through March 31, 2014. Waiting beyond that to enroll if you’re uninsured may result in a tax penalty, though not if your situation is on this list of exemptions. For example, those who do not earn enough to have to file taxes and those who earn minimum wage (i.e., they would have qualified for Medicaid had Texas opted to expand it for adults) are among those who will not be penalized and not required to buy insurance.

Written by: Anat Kelman-Shaw, Children’s Defense Fund.

 

 

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