Philly Latino social services agency swamped as people seek last-minute Obamacare help


    Today’s official deadline to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act has some agencies in for a long day of helping those who’ve waited till the last minute to enroll.

    Latino service agency Congreso, a place in North Philadelphia where HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stumped for the ACA last year, has been slammed with people seeking help signing up for health coverage in recent weeks. That was especially the case on this last day. By midafternoon, about 50 people were signed in, the list growing, waiting to meet with Congreso’s bilingual staff.

    “There certainly has been a last-minute rush,” said Jose Rivera, Congreso’s vice president of health services. “And actually, what you see here right now is half of what was here earlier this morning.”

    Rivera says he’s excited they’ve been able to connect with so many people, even as Latino enrollment nationwide appears to be low. Twenty employees have become certified application counselors at Congreso, according to Rivera, but that’s in addition to their regular jobs. 

    By midday, counselors there were having technical problems getting through to They were also experiencing long waits getting through to the Spanish-speaking help line.

    Rivera says the strategy is to get as many people as possible started with their application today. Federal officials anticipated last-minute snags and are letting people who have started the process by midnight complete their enrollment after today.

    64-year-old Elvia Mejia stopped in to sign up. She’s uninsured, diabetic, and has struggled to pay for medicine costing upwards of $500 a month on her own.

    She said insurance is really important for her health, and she is holding out hope that she’ll be able sign up. Mejia joined family living in the United States three years ago, and while she may not be eligible for other federal health programs until she has been in the country for five years, the Affordable Care Act has no time requirement for immigrants in the country legally to be eligible for financial assistance purchasing coverage through the marketplace, if their income qualifies.

    Rivera, with Congreso, said staff will be there well into this evening. Beyond that Congreso and other agencies plan to continue helping people get through the process over the next few weeks.

    Between now and November people who have lost a job, gotten a divorce or experienced other qualifying events may also be eligible for a special enrollment period.

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