The federal deadline to sign up for health insurance is Monday, and many people seem to be paying attention.
Hard figures aren’t available, but people in the business of signing up the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act — “navigators” — say they’ve been busy in recent weeks. One private insurance agent said she has been “overwhelmed” by people who want to sign up.
That’s good news in Teton County, which has the highest rate of uninsured in Wyoming, a surprising counterpoint to the county’s status as one of the country’s richest.
Recent state figures put the county’s uninsured at 4,850, or 22.4 percent of everyone who officially lives here.
Many of those people have rushed to get insurance as time has run out, according to the people who run the navigator program at Teton County Library. Few appointments haven’t been filled, the library reports.
Jackson insurance agent Lisa Reeber said she has also seen the last-minute stampede.
“I’ve been completely overwhelmed,” Reeber said. “I’ve been turning down appointments for a week and a half.
“My goal was 200 applications when I started,” she said, but “it’s been like 450.”
About two-thirds of her recent customers, she said, have been people who came to her with no insurance.
Insurance company WINHealth, one of only two in the state participating, is reporting a similar situation. The company reports it has already exceeded its expected enrollment by 20 percent and is still seeing new clients every day.
“We’ve had a significant increase,” said John Gardner, chief business development officer at WINHealth. “I wouldn’t even hesitate to use the word ‘surge’ in the last 10 days.”
The sign-ups aren’t final proof that people will comply with the Obamacare mandate, Gardner said. He said the newly insured must still pay a first premium before their insurance goes into effect. Some might drop out.
Nationally, the dropout rate of those who enroll but don’t pay is running at about 30 percent, Gardner said.
Those who sign up and obtain insurance might also be dissuaded later by cost, said insurance agent. That’s because some cheap plans are no longer available, and new ones are often required to include services people didn’t choose in the past.
For those who stick it out, though, Obamacare offers help in the form of subsidies. Such breaks are figured on a sliding scale for people whose income is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, which is up to $46,000 a year for a single person.
“It’s black and white,” Reeber said. “Either you’re a winner or a loser.”
St. John’s Medical Center director Lou Hochheiser was encouraged by the sign-up surge but said the March 31 deadline puts those still uninsured in a tight spot.
“”There’s no question there’s some of those wonderful stories” about people getting insurance, Hochheiser said. “But did we reach all of the people we should have reached? The answer is no.”
Despite improvements since its disastrous October premiere, the HealthCare.gov website still can be discouraging.
“It still take two hours to get somebody through the system,” Hochheiser said.
And though people naturally like to be insured, and the federal website is operating more efficiently, Obamacare itself still isn’t getting a lot of love. National polls show that the law remains widely unpopular.
People still have through Monday to sign up, but if they intend to get insurance they had better get moving, Gardner said.
“Don’t wait till the last day,” the insurance company executive said. “Get out there and get going, and if you need help, find someone who can.”