Last minute surge of locals enrolling for 'Obamacare'
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - There's less than a week left to enroll for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. After that, open enrollment ends, and you'll have to wait another year and receive federal fines.
At last count, more than 5 million Americans have signed up, but thousands of people in Hamilton County are still uninsured and unsure of what do. Erlanger has been so swamped with phone calls from last minute enrollees, it's partnering with Chattanooga-based health insurance broker American Exchange to handle the surge.
"They've actually ran out of face to face appointments so we've kind of moved into the primary role for them," American Exchange broker Andrew Hetzler said.
The Erlanger - American Exchange partnership has enrolled more than 1,500 people in just the last two weeks. The closer that March 31st deadline gets, the more calls pouring into the call center on Market Street.
"I think it's kind of human nature to wait until the deadline to do things so I think that's what we're getting now," Hetzler said.
If you qualify for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act but don't enroll by next Monday, the federal government will penalize you. That's what the majority of callers are asking about at this stage of the game.
"I believe a lot of the people that really felt it important to get coverage have already done so, and the folks we're getting now are just those that are like 'well, there's this deadline thing, let me go see what it's about,'" American Exchange broker Eddie McCrary said.
The fine for failing to enroll is $95 or 1-percent of your income, whichever is more. You'll get it when you file your 2014 taxes.
The cost of getting a plan varies depending on the individual.
"From people crying on the phone from being so happy that they're getting coverage that's affordable that they haven't been able to get in the past, to people being confused, well why is it this much," McCrary said.
National research shows the Chattanooga area has some of the lowest premiums, but many people are still struggling to navigate the sign-up process themselves. That's why local insurance and health professionals are urging everyone who has a question to call in and ask it, before time runs out.
The call center is staying open Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. at 1-888-995-1674.