The deadline to sign up for health care is Monday, March 31, and New Mexico lags behind just about every other state in the country in terms of enrollment.
Phil Schiliro is the adviser to President Obama on the Affordable Care Act. He moved his family to Santa Fe in 2012 and said enrollment is critical in New Mexico.
A study completed in 2012 showed more than 400,000 New Mexicans don’t have health insurance. Only about 15,000 have signed up on the exchange.
“There are tax subsidies available to people, which make insurance very affordable,” he said. “For a lot of people, it only comes out to $50 a month, $100 a month. A trip to the emergency room can cost 5, 6, 7 thousand dollars.”
People can sign up by phone by calling 1-800-318-2596 or by visiting healthcare.gov.
Schiliro said on Wednesday, more than 1.5 million people around the country went to healthcare.gov to find a health care plan, and the website is handling that increase in traffic without problems.
To avoid the penalty—either $95 or 1 percent of income—people only need to have started the process of using the health exchange. Schiliro says if you’ve begun to enroll but need more time to complete the process, you will have more time to finish up.
He is encouraging people not to procrastinate until Monday at 2 p.m. to make the call, because they might encounter long wait times. “Do it now."
KUNM got a chance to talk with Schiliro about the ACA, immigration and health care, and the affordability gap.
How’s the website holding up with all that last-minute traffic?
Terrific. We had problems, and that’s what people remember from October and November. But we really haven’t had any serious problems since then. And that’s why more than 5 million people have been able to enroll in state and federal marketplaces.
The website is working. When people get there, they get to compare choices and are finding really affordable options for good health insurance.
So you are extending the deadline for a couple of weeks.
If people have started the process—so they’ve gone to the website, started an application, or they’ve called the 800 number—but there are some complications with their application that are not their own fault, they’ll get a little extra time to finish it.
Part of the reason for that, is what we found as we got very close to the December deadline for people who wanted insurance in January, we had people waiting on the phone for an hour or two to get through on the very last day. I can tell that demand is going to be even greater now. It’s one of the reasons people should call now and now wait until Monday.
Given that there were computer issues for a couple of months, why isn’t the deadline being extended for longer than just a couple of weeks?
It’s because premiums need to be set for next year, and to do that, insurance companies need to know how many people have enrolled, and what’s the breakdown between healthy people and people who might have some illnesses right now. So that can’t go into June or July, it needs to get resolved earlier this year.
What effort is the White House making to help Hispanic and Native American people sign up in New Mexico?
There are navigators, people in the community working to do that. We’re doing a lot of outreach to radio stations that different communities listen to. We’re trying to be as creative as we can to get the word out.
There are many New Mexicans who fall into what’s being called the “affordability gap,” and it’s said that these folks will likely choose to pay the $95 penalty rather than sign up for the exchange. Is the White House aware of that issue?
The fee people would pay in 2015 when they do their taxes is $95 or 1 percent of income. Now, no one in this country is required to buy insurance if they can’t afford it. If someone genuinely can’t afford insurance, there’s an affordability exemption in the law, and they don’t have to buy it. But people can’t know that unless they go to the website and look at the options.
That’s why the tax credits are so important. They do make it affordable for people. Two things I should point out: One, Medicaid is expanded. So it covers many more New Mexicans, and that’s not going to cost them any money. People should take advantage of that, because in a state like Texas, they did not expand their Medicaid program, and a lot of people can’t get health insurance who could have in New Mexico.
The second thing is they’ll figure out what their tax credits are. I think that will solve the affordability issue for a lot of those people. If it still exists for them, there’s a simple process where if it’s not affordable, they won’t have to pay the fee.
It’s also estimated that thousands of people in New Mexico won’t be able to access insurance on the health exchange due to their immigration status. These are not people who are in the country illegally but rather people who are here legally and are still awaiting their full citizenship status. Are there any plans to address that issue?
I would encourage those people to call the 800 number. 1-800-318-2596. We have folks who can work that through, and we also have a large number of our service specialists who are Spanish-speakers. We also have a situation of sometimes people aren’t complete citizens yet, but other members of their families are citizens, and so in those mixed-status households, we have a special program to make sure people can get insurance.
There’s also for Spanish-speakers cuidadodesalud.gov that they can go to and get this information.
Say the parent in the household is in the country illegally but children or other family members are not. Will the parents be asked about their immigration status when they’re trying to get family members signed up?
No. None of this will be used for immigration status purposes. What’s very common in New Mexico and other places is the mom could be a citizen and the dad’s not, or vice versa. There’s some concern in households: If I take the step of going to the website, is that going to compromise my immigration status or my spouse’s immigration status?
It will not. The president’s been very clear about that.
What are other barriers to people signing up for the health exchange?
I think the biggest problem is just people knowing about it. You’ve been hearing about this and reading about it for months. For a lot of people, the information still hasn’t gotten out there.
That’s why I feel so strongly about New Mexico. In California, in New York, hundreds of thousands of people are signing up, and they’re hearing about it, and they’re getting good insurance at an affordable price. New Mexico, for whatever reason, we’re not there yet. So in these last few days, everyone in our community has to work together to spread the word.
I know a lot of your listeners already have health insurance, but they will know family and friends in Albuquerque, in Santa Fe, in Taos, that don’t have insurance. This is an opportunity people shouldn’t pass up.