Many Still Unaware of Looming Obamacare Enrollment Deadline

Saturday, 01 Mar 2014 02:27 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The clock is ticking as the Obama administration nears the March 31 deadline for people to sign up in private insurance plans through Obamacare, with officials hoping for a final rush to bolster the exchanges.

Initially, the administration had hoped to enroll 7 million people in plans, but those numbers remain about 3 million behind the target goal, mainly because of the botched rollout of the Healthcare.gov website, reports The Hill.

But a poll released this week threw cold water on that expectation by revealing the public's ignorance about when they need to gain health coverage or pay a fine.

Three in four uninsured patients are not aware of the March 31 deadline, the Kaiser Family
Foundation found in its latest monthly Health Tracking Poll.

"Deadlines are something that Americans react to, whether it's filing or taxes or other responsibilities in society,” Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist and adviser to John Kerry's 2004 run for president, told The Hill. "Highlighting that date can be a really positive tool. Just making people aware of the deadline is likely to motivate them to join the system.”

House Republicans are voting next week to eliminate the individual mandate penalty for this year, a rule that says people who do not have insurance by the deadline will either be fined $95 or one percent of their income.

But Democrats say voters want to see Obamacare fixed and improved, not repealed, said a memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Kaiser poll found 56 percent of the respondents believe Obamacare should remain the law.

Groups like Enroll America and health insurance companies are also spreading the word about the looming deadline,

In addition, the Obama administration on Friday said some people will be able to receive federal subsidies for health insurance bought in the private market and not through the Obamacare exchanges, reports The New York Times.

Technical problems with the federal exchange site had prevented some customers from using the online service to find insurance and subsidies, federal officials said.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, asked the federal government to allow the tax credits, and several other states that have their own exchanges, including Maryland, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, have also experienced difficulties.

“We recognize that some states have experienced difficulties in processing automated eligibility determinations and enrollments,” said Aaron K. Albright, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We released guidance providing options to marketplaces to ensure eligible consumers have access to financial assistance.”

The new policy will apply to people who were not able to buy insurance through the exchanges because of technical issues, and ended up signing up for private insurance through the marketplace to make sure they were covered before the deadline.

The subsidies will be paid retroactively, and Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts, who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health said the Obama administration is "ignoring the law" with the new policy change.

But Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, said the Obama administration is avoiding a legal liability by allowing the subsidies.

"People could have gone to court to obtain benefits denied without due process of law, because of a breakdown in government eligibility systems, and a judge would probably have ordered retroactive relief,” Rosenbaum said. “The federal government is voluntarily providing equitable relief that a court would have given.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and others spent last week pushing Obamacare, including Michelle Obama's appearance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last week, reports Politico.

In addition, Obama and others have been appearing on national radio talk shows and more to make their push as the deadline gets nearer.

"Folks only have about five weeks left,” Obama said on the Russ Parr Morning Show. "Don’t believe all the misinformation that’s out there because that is all politics and that is all directed toward me coming from the other side. Check for yourself whether this makes sense.”

The first lady has been using her appearances to push young people to apply for insurance.

“In addition to our old folks who don’t want to go to the doctor, young people think they’re invincible," she said this past week. “The fact of the matter is the young lady who is still wearing the heels in the snow, who is going to slip and crack her behind on a patch of ice, is going to need insurance.”

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