With just eight weeks left for people to sign up for federally subsidized private health insurance, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is overseeing the daunting task of making up for lost time.
That may be one of the reasons she visited Jersey City today — to get word to the procrastinators that the notoriously buggy federal website is now working and window-shoppers may be pleasantly surprised by the price tags.
The most common obstacle to enrollment she’s noticed? An ingrained resignation in people that health insurance is for others, but not them.
“If they don’t have insurance, they figure it will never be affordable,” she said.
The deadline for people to acquire health insurance through the federal marketplace is March 31. After that, those without insurance will pay a fine when they file their taxes next year. (Medicaid enrollment continues year-round.)
Nine out of 10 of New Jersey’s uninsured — or roughly 780,000 people — may qualify for lower costs on coverage through subsidies or Medicaid, federal officials estimate.
Yet only a fraction of them — 106,000 — have signed up so far.
In Jersey City, where Mayor Steven Fulop has made health insurance an administration concern, city employees and community groups have enrolled about 4,000 residents. However, he estimates at about 50,000 residents lack health insurance.
Explaining a complicated government program in a city in which 70 languages are spoken hasn’t been easy. “It’s very labor-intensive,” he said.
New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that chose to expand Medicaid for its residents, yet also chose to let the federal government handle the bulk of that task through its website, healthcare.gov.
That website’s problems nearly brought the program to its knees in October, when enrollment began. Those problems have been fixed, Sebelius said.
However, she acknowledged that information from people who used the federal website to enroll in New Jersey’s Medicaid program, called NJ FamilyCare, was garbled to the point of uselessness when it was transferred to the state.
The final fixes for that flaw should be complete by next week, Sebelius said. In the meantime, the glitch will not affect their coverage, according to the FamilyCare website. Anyone who applied before January and was deemed eligible will have coverage retroactive to the first of the year.
The group Enroll America, a non-profit formed to tout the new health law, has released a public service TV spot aimed at young adults, whose participation in the plan is essential. It deploys all manner of cute animal to make its point: