Last-minute shoppers for health insurance were greeted by lines and lengthy wait times Sunday as they attempted to obtain coverage under the Affordable Care Act before Monday’s registration deadline.
After several enrollment deadlines for President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law were rolled back, Monday is when nearly everyone is required to have coverage. Those who don’t risk paying a penalty — one that will increase each year, starting at $95 or 1 percent of your yearly household income, if that is higher.
“We got here at 10 a.m.,” Dayanara Valladares, 20, said roughly five hours after her family arrived at Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park to sign up. Seated on a park bench outside the hospital, Valladares, who lives in Albany Park, said the wait time was “ridiculous.”
Inside, her mother and father were in a packed waiting room, hoping to go through the registration process, which workers said takes about an hour.
“We should have done it a long time ago,” said Sandra Snyder, 37, of Rogers Park, as her wait stretched into its fourth hour. “I just don’t trust the Internet. I wanted to sit with somebody who could explain everything.”
Elsewhere Sunday, navigators — workers hired to help people sign up for coverage — reported a surge in enrollments as the uninsured flocked to open registration centers.
While the wait time was between two and three hours at the Erie Family Health Center in Humboldt Park, front desk manager Jesus Villanueva advised those who were fed up to just stick it out.
“Stick around for today and get it done,” Villanueva said. “Just be patient and get it done.”
The process of signing people up has been moving pretty smoothly, said Mariela Estrada, 28, of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council on the Southwest Side. She said the federal website, Healthcare.gov, which was plagued by glitches when it was rolled out last fall, has been working well.
Estrada, a navigator for the council, said the first surge of enrollees was in November, when the program was rolled out. She hadn’t seen a similar surge until now — with the deadline looming.
Some people she has helped don’t have access to a computer or don’t speak English, she said. And because an email address is required to register, she has had to help some families open their first email accounts.
“Families just want to have a place to go where they feel comfortable,” Estrada said. “The website itself is simple if you know the language and the terminology.”
While a majority of the uninsured need to sign up by Monday, those who qualify for Medicaid, the state-federal program for low-income people, are an exception. They may enroll at any time. And if you already have health insurance through your job, Medicaid or Medicare, you’re fine.
So far, about 4.2 million Americans have bought one of the new options for health insurance plans on the HealthCare.gov, the federal government has said. Of those, 113,733 were people from Illinois, as of Feb. 1.
Individuals and families with income between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level are supposed to receive subsidies on a sliding scale if they get insurance through the marketplace on HealthCare.gov. That works out to up to $45,960 for an individual and up to $94,200 for a family of four.
To find a navigator in your area who can walk you through the enrollment process, go to getcoveredillinois.gov/get-help/.
You can also call Get Covered Illinois at (866) 311-1119 or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services call center at (800) 318-2596.
Enrollment dates for Affordable Care Act coverage for 2015 will be from Nov. 15, 2014, to Feb. 15, 2015.