March 31, 2014
The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is midnight Monday, and many people in Central Virginia will work into the night to make sure people who want coverage can get it.
"It's really busy around here, which is a good thing," said Mary Frances Charlton, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. "When we hit March, the call volume just got extremely high."
Charlton is designated as an Affordable Care Act navigator, trained to help people sign up for insurance.
"A lot of folks that I see haven't ever had insurance before, so this is an entirely new thing to them," she said.
The process entails explaining terms like premiums and deductibles, since many people have never had experience with them.
"Often, people put off things like mammograms because they don't have insurance," Charlton said. "So knowing they can go and get that done and make sure they're healthy is really a good thing to see."
The commonwealth expects to have 127,000 people sign up by the midnight deadline. Those who don't sign up for health insurance could face penalties.
"That's something that I stress to people, to think about how this could fit into your budget," Charlton said.
Another target group is small business owners, who now have more options for health insurance.
"For the most part, they've left our office saving a lot of money they can now put into their business instead of having to spend large amounts on health care premiums every month," Charlton said.
The enrollment isn't for everybody. People who make less money than the federal poverty line and those who make four-times that amount may end up paying more for insurance.
On Monday, the federal health care website known for its technical glitches had another, reportedly blamed on a high traffic volume. Charlton said people can still use the site to learn their options.
"You can look and see which plan you want, and that way when the website is back functioning at full capacity, you know exactly which one you want, you just go through and put your information in," she said.
People who have begun signing up online but haven't finished the process will receive a grace period to complete their enrollment.
"It's really rewarding to see folks leave with insurance, especially when they haven't had it before," Charlton said.