HHS Secretary to Philly residents with Obamacare plans: review, update, enroll

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    Round two of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act is just around the corner, starting Nov. 15. The approaching period brought new Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to Philadelphia Thursday, to discuss how the region and country have improved the sign-up and renewal process since its disastrous rollout a year ago.

    Speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Burwell commended Mayor Michael Nutter and others in the region for their efforts in helping sign up more than 100,000 people for health coverage this past year. But she said those individuals will now have to update their plans during this next enrollment period.

    “We’re encouraging people, it’s five steps: review, update, compare, choose and enroll,” she said. “We’re trying to make it easy, we’re trying to make it simple.”

    (In Pennsylvania, individuals who don’t actively renew their coverage will be automatically re-enrolled, according to Resources for Human Development.)

    For those enrolling for the first time, Burwell said, a new streamlined application will improve the user experience.

    “We’ve gone from 76 screens down to 16 for that new application,” she said.

    Local outreach groups meeting with Burwell — including Enroll America, Healthy Philadelphia and Better Health Network — said they’ve been revamping enrollment strategies in preparation for Nov. 15. Some are training more application counselors and making sure help is easily available in high-traffic places, such as the library.

    Burwell encouraged people not to lose track of the big picture, and what having access to health insurance can mean for people such as 27-year-old Anne Ha.

    “I think when you’re young, you think you’re healthy, and unbreakable, and invincible, and nothing can harm you,” Ha said.

    She went on to tell Burwell and others that she had been uninsured until her mother encouraged her to sign up during the last enrollment period. Then she found out she has cancer.

    “Just hearing that word, your whole world falls apart,” she said, trembling.

    Ha said she needed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of care but that, thankfully, she was able to access and afford it with her insurance.

    “You know, the numbers are important,” said Burwell, taking a deep breath. “This tells it better.”

    Tune into The Pulse next week to hear an extended story.

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