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Push on in Kansas for final days of Obamacare enrollment

Billboards similar to this one on U.S. Highway 75 north of Topeka can be seen in various parts of Kansas as consumer advocates push to get people enrolled in health insurance plans before the Obamacare open enrollment period ends March 31. --photo Trevor Graff

Billboards similar to this one on U.S. Highway 75 north of Topeka can be seen in various parts of Kansas as consumer advocates push to get people enrolled  –photo Trevor Graff

By Mike Sherry
KHI News Service

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With the deadline fast approaching to get health coverage this year through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace plans, a final push is on across Kansas, Missouri and other states to get people signed up.

“We have stepped up efforts with our outreach activities. Our navigators have jam-packed their schedules, getting appointments made to get people enrolled,” said Katrina McGivern, communications coordinator for the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, one of the Kansas groups given federal grant dollars to help get people enrolled. The association represents Kansas’ various safety net clinics.

KAMU already had billboard advertisements for the Obamacare marketplace up in various parts of the state, but this past weekend also began airing ads in movie theaters. Radio and TV ads also have been airing in the various markets.

The last day of open enrollment is March 31 and most involved with it report that the pace has picked up considerably since the marketplace’s slow start in October 2013. Starting this year, most people who don’t have health insurance but can afford it will face penalties.’Starting to realize’

“I think people are starting to realize the deadline is coming. We’re seeing a lot of people who have never had insurance before. They don’t know about co-pays and deductibles. We’re really working with them from square one,” said Misty Kruger of the Shawnee County Health Agency in Topeka.

The agency hired certified navigators and counselors to help people get enrolled and stationed the workers at the public library, a popular community gathering spot, with hours that extend into the evenings and weekends.

Earlier this month in Kansas City, Kan., organizers held a two-day health fair as part of efforts to get the word out.

Salvador Lopez, an Excelsior Springs, Mo. farm worker, was among those who attended the event. He came with his wife and two daughters.

He said he would like health insurance so he could afford diabetes medicine. The coverage also could help his wife, who said she wasn’t feeling well as she had her blood pressure checked.

Lopez said Medicaid already covers his daughters and he was optimistic he would be able to find a plan he could afford through the new marketplace.

“It’s going to help me a lot,” he said.

“I would say the majority of people that we see have no idea what health insurance is, have never had it,” said Pam Seymour, executive director of Shepherd’s Center Central. The nonprofit has two locations in Kansas City, Mo., and has more than a dozen trained workers to help individuals navigate the enrollment process using the federal website.

Surge expected

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported last that 4.2 million people nationwide had purchased exchange plans through the end of February. The Congressional Budget Office had originally projected that 7 million people would enroll in private plans in the first year of the marketplace. Last month it revised that downward to 6 million.

The latest numbers from HHS included about 104,000 people who were signed up in Missouri and Kansas. According to federal estimates, about 1.1 million people in the two states are uninsured and eligible to participate in the exchange. Nationally, the number of uninsured people in 2012 was estimated at about 47 million.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 6 million people will get coverage through the Obamacare marketplaces this year, about 20 percent less than originally projected.

But officials said they are expecting there will be a flurry of enrollments at or near the deadline.

“What we are finding,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said with the release of the new enrollment numbers, “is that as more Americans learn just how affordable marketplace insurance can be, more are signing up.”

A department spokeswoman said agency officials were “busy preparing to handle an anticipated surge in enrollment as we approach the end of March.”

HHS officials said they had hired an additional 2,000 workers for the department’s help line – bringing the total to about 14,000 representatives.

Drafters of the Affordable Care Act intended the health insurance marketplaces to operate much like online systems that allow shoppers to compare prices on airline tickets or hotel rooms. The idea behind that was that competition among plans would yield the best deals for consumers.

There also was the assumption that the marketplace could give individuals the clout of being part of a large group similar to people enrolled in a large, employer-based plan.

Resistance

The health-reform law gave states the option of establishing their own marketplace or participating in a federally run exchange.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 17 states have their own exchanges. The remaining states are relying on the federal marketplace or created a hybrid federal-state operation.

In many instances, as in Missouri and Kansas, the decision not to establish a state exchange stemmed from conservative Republican and/or voter opposition to Obamacare.

In November 2012, Missouri voters approved a proposition barring the governor or any state agency from helping establish an exchange without legislative or voter approval.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican who ran for office campaigning against the health reform law, rejected $31.5 million in federal grant money that would have allowed the state to build its own exchange. He also rejected a plan that would have let the state partner with the federal government on a marketplace, opting instead for one run solely by the national government.

Final push

At the Shepherd’s Center in Kansas City, Seymour said, “everybody is ready and up to the challenge of getting these last-minute people enrolled. We are going to pull out all the stops and do whatever we need to do.”

Shepherd’s Center is among the various groups in Missouri and Kansas that are working to inform people that time is running out to buy insurance for 2014 through the marketplace. The next enrollment period starts in November.

Among the initiatives in the Kansas City metro area are Enroll Wyandotte, the coalition that sponsored the recent health fair, and CoverKC, a $700,000 effort bankrolled by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

The St. Louis-based Missouri Foundation for Health has a statewide project called Cover Missouri.

In Kansas, the state insurance department is working with KAMU and other outside organizations to spread the word about the Obamacare health plans.

Various activities

Here are some of the efforts to date and plans for the next couple of weeks

• Cover Missouri: Has helped enroll about 68,000 Missourians for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, said Ryan Barker, health policy vice president at the Missouri Foundation for Health. That total includes some people who turned out to be eligible for Medicaid. With a multimedia campaign on tap, Barker said he hopes the effort can have 130,000 people enrolled by the end of the month.

• Among KAMU’s efforts is a text messaging campaign. And various KAMU members are running their own ad campaigns and enrollment events, including an “enrollment blitz” scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Center for Health and Wellness in Wichita. The Wyandotte Health Department will be taking enrollments from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the deadline day.

• CoverKC: Since January, workers have knocked on more than 35,000 doors in the urban cores of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., according to Jessica Hembree, program and policy officer for the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Organizers said they hope to have knocked at 70,000 doors by the end of this month, supplemented by mail, telephone and digital marketing.

• Enroll Wyandotte workers aim to have reached about 18,000 residents by the end of the month, said Jerry Jones, executive director of the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County. By the end of the next enrollment period, which ends in mid-January, Jones said the goal is to have 12,000 previously uninsured county residents enrolled in plans through the marketplace.

Enrollment workers said the federal website is working much better than it did last fall.

Field workers said it still can take upwards of two, three or five hours to enroll, if the case is complex, but that they are cautiously optimistic the anticipated surge of sign-ups in the next couple of weeks will not lead to another meltdown.

“We hope the process works better,” said Linda Sheppard, special counsel and director of health care policy and analysis at the Kansas Department of Insurance. “I assume it will. We will see what happens.”

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  • derpedya

    Nothing like paying $6,000/year with a $10,000 deductible. You can tell these people have no understanding of the lack of insurance they are buying.

    • Chief59

      Some plans are that high, yes. The majority are not. My wife was uninsurable before the ACA. Now, she has a $202/month premium, with a $2500 deductible. It was a lifesaver for us. Catastrophic plans, like the ones you mentioned, have always been high, always will be. They are a worst case scenario plan.

      • passin_threw

        What about the people being turned away from the program because they don’t make enough money? I thought the plan was to help so that everyone would have insurance

        • Chief59

          You mean the people who are supposed to be eligible for Medicaid, but certain states, ours included, refuse to expand it? That’s called hurting your constituents for the sake of throwing a hissy fit. Even with Medicaid expansion, there would have been a small gap, but Republican governors are making it much larger.

          • passin_threw

            The people I know being turned away don’t qualify for Medicaid. Why is the ACA turning them away? It was advertised to be the save all. Not really turning out that way is it?

          • Chief59

            Would they qualify for Medicaid if Kansas had expanded it? Probably. That was my point. Kansas chose to leave the majority of the people who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid and are below the ACA out in the cold. What part of this are you not understanding? Medicaid expansion would have alleviated most of the coverage gap. Brownback chose not to expand it.

            You want coverage for everyone? Let’s go to single payer. Everyone is covered for everything then. Oh wait, you’ll call that socialist.

          • passin_threw

            I knew what your point was. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts we’d all be merry for Christmas also. Let me explain my point. Obama sold the poor and needy on his health care program and then it doesn’t cover those in true need of aid. I would think someone as compassionate and giving as you are that you would be livid at the shells game he played on us yet you still defend everything he does all the while saying us conservatives are just throwing a hissy fit and have no valid concerns. Well it concerns me that our leader has misled us on this.

          • Go Chief

            passin_threw – Is it not clear that if the State of Kansas would EXPAND Medicaid most of these people in the gap would be covered?

          • passin_threw

            Most is not all. Why is your beloved program not taking care of the needy?

          • Chief59

            It doesn’t take care of all because conservative lawmakers didn’t want it to. The left wanted single payer. We got the ACA, but only after extreme compromises. Write your representatives (who all opposed single payer and the ACA) and ask them why they don’t want to take care of the needy.

          • passin_threw

            Pretty sure Obama said it would cover ALL Americans. Why would he tell such lies to his own constituents? How can we have any faith and trust in him when he lied like that?

          • Chief59

            If you have to dig that deep to rationalize your hatred for the man, I’d say he must not be doing that bad at his job. Don’t worry though, I’m sure you’ll have new talking points after Limbaugh’s show is over. Then we can REALLY find out what is sooooo bad about our President. Thanks for trolling again, passin. It’s always a pleasure listening to your nonsense. At least a_citzen_patriot can have a rational argument and try to back up his points. You’re just a hate-filled curmudgeon. Darn kids must have been on your grass again, I guess.

          • passin_threw

            I have no hate for him. I feel sorry for him. I didn’t dig deep at all. Was just asking another question that you failed to answer yet again. So now I’m a troll? You’re really thinking for yourself now using the most common of retorts. I would imagine you’ve listened to a lot more Limbaugh than I have, he is nothing more than an entertainer trying to get a rise for ratings and profit. Sorry to disappoint you.
            I get a lot of smiles watching you fumble around. Keep up the good work son…

          • Chief59

            I’m glad I can entertain you. People like you will always think the other guy is a moron. You don’t back up any arguments with facts. You don’t bring rationale to a a discussion. You only have your beliefs. As long as they’re good enough for you, great, but don’t sit there and and act like your beliefs and facts are the same thing.

          • passin_threw

            Sorry you don’t approve. I will never post links and stats. Just not something my personality trait does. You’ll survive without me boring you with slanted links the way you do. Probably, why I don’t click on yours. Thanks for putting words in my mouth tho, that’s real classy trying to mud up my good standing in the world of hayspost

          • Chief59

            The ACA hinges on Medicaid expansion. Republican governors know this, and are trying to sabotage the program by not expanding Medicaid. This isn’t a difficult concept. I can get out some pen and paper and draw you some pictures to try and explain, if need be. The poor and needy could AND should be covered under the ACA, IF governors expand Medicaid. They aren’t. I’m not blaming conservatives. I’m blaming a select few governors. Why does the right always have this “attack on of us, attack all of us” mentality? It’s not about you.

          • Chief59
          • Another Failed Govt program :(

            The huffingtonpost is not a reliable source of information. The ACA was suppost to help the uninsured. So far 7.5 million of the 40 million uninsured have signed up for the program Of those 7.5 million only about 75% have actually paid for the coverage. Of those 7.5 Million who did sign up, some of them had good insurance that was cancelled because of the new regulations that came along with ACA.
            The ACA was sold to us as a way to bring down health care costs and insure the uninsured, it has failed to do that for the majority of Americans.

          • stone_cold_steve_austin

            SNAP, ACA, Medicaid, etc….. are all great programs for the ones using them. Why wouldn’t they be? It is free money (so to speak). The people who don’t participate in these programs are the ones paying for it so it will always be hard to accept them as great programs. NONE of these programs have lived up to what was promised. NONE of these programs take care of ALL the people they were initually intended for. Too much government manipuation will forever hold the programs back.
            I have no problem helping those that CANNOT help themselves. It is the ones that can help themselves but still use the programs that I have issue with.

          • Chief59

            The people who take advantage and scam the system make up a small minority. Statistics continually show fraud across all welfare categories at around 2-3%. You will have that in ANY program, government run, or not.

          • stone_cold_steve_austin

            There is plenty of abuse between the outright fraud and the individuals that actually NEED the services.

          • Chief59

            I didn’t argue fraud didn’t exist. Like I said, it continually makes up about 2-3% of welfare recipients. Now, that does add up to a pretty penny, but it is not the rampant fraud people make it out to be. I can accept 2-3% fraud if it means the other 97% of recipients who need help get it.

          • stone_cold_steve_austin

            There is more abuse than just the 2 to 3% fraud you speak of. I know of many individuals (family and acquaintances) that abuse the system. Probably would never get classified as fraud. But plenty of abuse.

          • Chief59

            The bad ones give the good ones a bad reputation. That doesn’t mean the programs are bad. Our society is programmed to be greedy and take what we can. However, 70+ of food stamp recipients are either over the age of 65, or are military veterans. Those people need the programs.

          • naked chinchilla

            save the chinchillas

          • Reality Check

            At one time, I had to go on Medicaid… it did no good. The spend down amount I had to pay every month was more than I could afford to pay and still pay my basic bills otherwise. I was advised by my doctor to be on a medication that cost $1800 per month. It wasn’t possible. So, Medicaid is not that great.

          • Chief59

            You’re right. It’s not great. It has constantly had its budget slashed. It could be sooo much better. However, some people feel it needs to go away, so they keep taking chunks of money from it here and there. Guess who those people are.

          • Chief59

            That statistics on who has paid are not in yet. So far, results are anywhere from 54% to 92%, depending on the state. The overall average is being estimated at 15-20% have not paid. Not 25%. People who sign up do not have to pay yet. Will everyone pay? No. In fact, every single day people stop paying premiums on insurance they have.

            Yes, SOME of them had good insurance before. Some got even better insurance for the same or less money. The regulation that cause some insurance to be cancelled was taken out. Insurance companies cancelled people all of the time for no reason before the ACA.

            You can’t judge costs four months after insurance started taking effect. The CBO just this past week revised previous estimates, and now show that the ACA will save an additional $5 billion.

            http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/04/cbo-obamacare-will-cover-more-people-at-a-lower-cost-than-we-expected/360633/

            http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/45229-UpdatedBudgetProjections_2.pdf

          • stone_cold_steve_austin

            You can insert all the numbers and links you want. Only history will tell the truth. So far the social programs do not have history on their side compared to what was promised.

          • Chief59

            They never will. I want them to work perfectly, but it just isn’t going to happen, so I will take a social program that doesn’t work as well as advertised compared to no program at all.

            Again though, if programs were allowed to do what they were created for, they would work much better.

        • Naked Chinchilla

          I have nipples Greg. Can you milk me?