MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

March 9, 2014

Health advocates look for uninsured residents

Enrollment in insurance plans must be done by March 31

TULSA (AP) — Health and insurance groups in Oklahoma are trying to reach out to uninsured residents as a March 31 deadline approaches for open enrollment in health care plans under the federal Affordable Care Act.

After March 31, only people with “qualifying life events” such as a change in income or family size will be able to enroll in plans offered through the federal law. In Oklahoma, enrollment is through the federal health care exchange, healthcare.gov.

The next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15.

“We’ve been fighting an uphill battle, if you will, trying to make people aware that this offered some real opportunities for them,” Judy Grant, the deputy director of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, told the Tulsa World.

Grant said more people are enrolling as the deadline nears:

“There was a large percentage of the population that just wanted to sit back and wait and see how it’s going, particularly those who are younger ... It has become much busier.”

The law includes financial penalties for people who have no health insurance, with some exemptions that include members of Indian tribes, people who don’t make enough to file taxes or would pay more than 8 percent of household income for coverage, and those who would qualify for expanded Medicaid.

At Morton Comprehensive Health Services in Tulsa, employees are holding weekly information sessions for the public.

“We have a lot more people calling us now, mostly because of the (federal) penalty,” said Grace Burke, director of senior outreach and education at Morton.

“I want them to take a chance. Just call somebody and have them run the numbers for them. If they qualify for this insurance, it’s a great thing,” Burke said.

Melissa Parchman, the owner of Magoon & Associates insurance agency in Tulsa, which has set up offices at hospitals in Tulsa, Pryor and Muskogee, said interest has been high, but she’s disappointed in the number of people ultimately able to enroll.

“The numbers that we had expected here in our agency are a lot less than we thought. For every 10 people we screen, maybe one person can qualify,” Parchman said.

And Heidi Argumedo, a bilingual navigator at Community Health Connection in Tulsa said she has heard complaints involving applicants who are legal residents but not born in the United States.

“The system is still not recognizing those numbers. It kicks us off the system in the middle of it,” Argumedo said.

She and others have been told to leave out the identification numbers — known informally as green cards — and follow up with any paper documentation needed.

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