With a deadline looming, the federal government is stepping up efforts to enroll Arizonans in health insurance.
Working with local organizations and health-care providers, federal officials have coordinated a statewide event Saturday for enrolling people in subsidized health insurance, and in screening for Medicaid eligibility.
Assistance will be available at 14 Tucson-area locations, including the Tucson Urban League, 2305 S. Park Ave.; Chicanos Por La Causa Community Center, 250 N. Silverbell Road; and the Pima County Housing Center, 801 W. Congress St.
The push is specific to Arizona because of its high rate of uninsured people, said David Sayen, administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services region that includes Arizona. About 20 percent of the state population is uninsured and a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families said Arizona has the third-highest rate of uninsured children in the country.
Another reason for the Arizona push is the number of Spanish speakers here, he said. The Spanish version of the Healthcare.gov enrollment website had numerous glitches and was not working at all for several weeks after open enrollment began Oct. 1.
March 31 is the deadline for open enrollment through the health insurance marketplace. The health insurance marketplace is a portal where qualified Americans may purchase federally subsidized coverage. While some states like California and Oregon are running their own marketplaces, Arizona opted to have a federally run exchange — the Healthcare.gov site that has had so much publicity for its shaky launch.
At the end of March, enrollment for individuals and families in the federal marketplace will close until fall. The exception would be people who make a life change between now and then, such as losing a job, getting married or having a baby.
While March 31 is the deadline for individuals and families to get subsidized health insurance, enrollment in Arizona’s Medicaid program (known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS) is available year-round, stressed Michal Goforth, executive director of the Pima County Access Program.
Goforth said she’s seen an increasing number of people signing up for both Medicaid and subsidized insurance, but she said there are also people who seem fearful of the process.
“I don’t think it’s that they don’t want insurance. They are worried about whether they can get through enrollment and if it’s affordable,” she said.
Often people will apply for insurance through the marketplace, not realizing they are eligible for AHCCCS, and vice versa, Goforth said.
Federal data show that through the end of January, nearly 43,500 Arizonans had selected a plan through the federal marketplace. Slightly more than half were women and 72 percent qualified for financial assistance in purchasing insurance.
The total number of uninsured Arizonans is about 1.2 million.
One group that federal officials particularly want to reach are those people who got an account at Healthcare.gov but left the process before enrolling.
“There are a whole lot of people who went to the website and didn’t buy a policy,” Sayen said.
One of the reasons that people don’t sign up is that they’ve never had insurance before, Sayen said.
“The most important thing is that in Southern Arizona more people are subsidy-eligible than they know now,” Sayen said. “They think the subsidy is like welfare.”
But subsidies are available to people and households earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $95,400 per year for a family of four.
“The important thing is that we’d love people to come out and support the day of action (Saturday), and not wait until the end of March and have difficulty,” Sayen said.