At noon inside the Northern Liberties Community center in Philadelphia on Saturday, a symbolic ribbon cutting organized by public officials and health advocates kicked off citywide enrollment efforts.
Joseph Krakauskas showed up nearly two hours in advance, hoping to secure a place at the front of the line for help. The retired 62-year-old had already enrolled in a silver-level personal choice plan through Independence Blue Cross during the first enrollment period. He was grateful. His COBRA had run out and he’d been uninsured for a year.
Then earlier this month, he received a notice that his plan, costing him about $80 a month with a $750 deductible and no coinsurance, would be ending. Instead, he learned his default option would cost him nearly $250 a month, and have a 10 percent coinsurance.
“I couldn’t believe it, that’s a huge jump.” he said. “This is almost like a bait and switch. I can’t believe they’re getting away with this.”
His concerns were echoed by others, filtering into this enrollment event.
“Folks should definitely go back and check out their options,” said Antoinette Kraus, head of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a group providing certified counselors throughout the state, and with about 11 on hand throughout Philadelphia on Saturday. “There are other plans available.”
Kraus’ group, worried that not enough assistance will be available for people, has also been recruiting volunteer counselors this year. Now that Pennsylvania is moving forward with a Medicaid option, nearly 300,000 residents will be newly eligible for coverage who fell into a coverage “gap” last year. Sign up for that program starts Dec. 1, so in the meantime, counselors are taking eligible individuals’ contact information to follow up.
By 1:30, Pedro Rodriguez finally had a reason to celebrate.
“We got an enrollee, yay!” he shouted. The room erupted in applause.
The local organizer with Enroll America said his neighborhood canvassing and phone banking was finally starting to pay off. Last year, more than 100,000 people from the city and surrounding counties signed up for coverage, but Enroll America estimates that nearly one in five Philadelphians are presently eligible for coverage.
The lucky winner who enrolled Saturday? It was 33-year-old James Rizzo. He lost his job in April, and has been without insurance ever since. Rizzo says he perused the web for options on his own, but in Googling ‘Obamacare,’ he wasn’t sure what site was or wasn’t legitimate.
Leaving the event, Rizzo said having coverage offers him some “piece of mind,” and at about $250 a month, he says it’s also affordable for him.
Confusion and difficulty navigating the website brought in several other individuals, including Sarah White, mother of two.
“I have a doctoral degree. The fact that this is so complicated for even someone with 14 years of college education is ridiculous,” she said. “But here I am trying to get help and I have hope.”
Organizers saw one hiccup frequently: passwords forgotten from last year. In some instances, people will have to wait a day to reset their password.
As for Krakauskas, he wasn’t able to change his plan…yet. He had trouble accessing his account through the website.
Even so, he and a counselor reviewed options. He identified a plan that he describes as affordable at $128 a month after subsidies. Reluctantly, he says he’ll switch, though he’d prefer to keep his 2014 plan that’s ending.
This disclosure: Independence Blue Cross supports WHYY.