Pennsylvanians signing up as ACA open enrollment deadline looms

Gokhan Ozagacli looks over paperwork Thursday after enrolling for health insurance with the help of Pennsylvania Health Access Network. (Anne Hoffman/ for WHYY)

Gokhan Ozagacli looks over paperwork Thursday after enrolling for health insurance with the help of Pennsylvania Health Access Network. (Anne Hoffman/ for WHYY)

Open enrollment for health coverage for 2018 through the Affordable Care Act ends Friday.

At a last-chance enrollment event at the Philadelphia Friends Center Thursday, workers from the Pennsylvania Health Access Network were busy taking calls from people seeking health insurance through the federal government.

Calls to the network’s health care helpline have been on hold for up to an hour. The organization had been seeing people by appointment, and then switched to taking walk-ins to accommodate even more last-minute sign-ups.

“It definitely weighs heavily on us, and we’re trying to do the best that we can and see as many folks as we can in these last 48 hours,” said Patrick Keenan, the network’s director of consumer protections and policy.

Keenan said it’s been hard to compress enrollment into six weeks. In the past, navigators had closer to three months to help people through the process.

Federal resources were also cut by a third in Pennsylvania, decreasing from about $3 million last year to $2 million this year. In response, the state set aside $100,000 to put together its own campaign to urge people to sign up for health care.

Some people are enrolling for the first time. Others have waited until just before Friday’s deadline because of all the uncertainty about the health care law’s future as a Republican-dominated Congress has vowed to repeal it.

“There are a lot of folks that have signed up in previous years and just waited to the last minute because, again, they really didn’t know what to do this year,” said Keenan.

Still, he said the numbers of enrollees have been strong so far, though the truncated enrollment period will likely have an effect.

Gokhan Ozagacli, who said a busy work schedule kept him from enrolling sooner, said he wanted some help because he didn’t want to make any mistakes. At first, he wanted a gold plan, but after looking at all the options with a navigator, he picked a less expensive one.

“I decided to have the silver plan because I don’t have a serious health issue,” he said.

Keenan said, all in all, enrollment is up for his organization compared with the same time last year. But the difference is. in 2016, open enrollment still had more than a month left.

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