Strong start with ACA in Orange County
A lack of information could lead to people being penalized for not signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
North Carolina is fifth in the country in ACA enrollment, with about half of the state’s 400,000 residents estimated needing to enroll having done so through the federal health care marketplace.
There are an estimated 18,000 people in Orange County in need of health insurance, including 7,000 adults who are eligible for subsidies through the ACA but the level of information reported to the counties from the federal government will potentially leave pockets of people without information and without coverage.
“It’s a fine balance of privacy and how do we help people without being in your business,” said Stacy Shelp, communications manager for the Orange County Health Department.
The Health Department knows how many people they assist with signing up for coverage but they are not notified of the number of people throughout the county who sign up directly through the federal website, HealthCare.gov.
Meredith Stewart, board of health strategic planning manager, said that the penalty for not signing up for medical insurance through the federal marketplace will lead to penalties of at least $95 that will increase annually per person.
Stewart said that “there will be a special enrollment period after the March 31 deadline,” for those who lose coverage with the loss of employment, or life changes including marriage, divorce or the addition of a child to a family.
Those who don’t sign up by the end of the month will have to wait until the next official enrollment period, Stewart said, November to February of next year.
Stewart said that Orange County began discussions last summer on how to best serve residents, including making information and assistance available to all people.
“Orange County did a tremendous outreach to non-English speaking residents,” said Shelp. “About one-third of the people we’ve help enroll are non-English speakers.”
ACA trained and certified staff and volunteers worked with the Health Department and other agencies to make sure information was accessible and people had the help they needed.
Stewart explained that nine out of 10 people in the state who are eligible to apply for medical coverage through the marketplace are also eligible for assistance to cover the costs. The state has two insurance providers, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Coventry One, leaving little room for competition.
Stewart said that the agency did see more younger people, mainly in their 20s, than they anticipated.
“This speaks to the importance of education around health insurance and to the number of people who couldn’t afford it before or didn’t have access,” Stewart said. “They do have the option of staying on their parent’s plan until they’re 26.”
County enrollment has been steady but is expected to increase leading up to the deadline. Overall, the ACA is being positively received.
“There was excitement that you don’t have to pay just when something bad happens or when something goes wrong, that this is something that’s helping me and my family stay healthy all the time,” Stewart said.
“Ultimately it’s exciting,” said Shelp. “The cost-savings are not just immediate. As people get the preventative care, we should see a reduction in chronic diseases. It’s great to see this opportunity and see people taking advantage of it.”
To schedule an appointment with the Orange County Health Department for enrollment assistance, call (919) 245-2000. The N.C. Enrollment Assistance Appointment Hotline number is 1-855-733-3711.