Despite long waits, there’s some success at Macon health care enrollment event

alopez@macon.comDecember 18, 2013 

Phillip Adams has skin cancer on the back of his head and needs surgery to have it removed.

He doesn’t, however, have health insurance to cover the procedure. Adams, a 49-year-old from Macon, hasn’t had insurance for three years, he said.

On Wednesday, Adams was one of 130 people hoping to enroll in Georgia’s health care exchange with help from counselors provided by Central Georgia Health System.

Open to the public, the enrollment session was held at Central Georgia Home Health on Eisenhower Parkway.

Consumers have until Monday to select a plan on the exchange if they want coverage starting Jan. 1, and they have until Jan. 10 to start paying for it. Enrollment in the exchange, which was created as part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, began Oct. 1.

Though reporters were not allowed to observe inside the building where health care counseling took place, people described a packed room and long waits.

“We’ve had a really good turnout,” said Peggy Boyles, assistant director of patient access for The Medical Center of Central Georgia.

Boyles greeted people as they walked in throughout the day, writing down their names so the one federal navigator and five certified counselors on site could help them in the order they arrived.

Despite long waits and some website slowness, 15 people were able to purchase insurance plans Wednesday and many more were approved for coverage plans, Boyles said.

Others had more difficulty getting what they wanted.

Cale Womack, 64, of Byron, arrived as soon as the enrollment session opened at 11 a.m., but he decided to leave after waiting two and a half hours without receiving counseling.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Womack said. “It’s just they are overwhelmed.”

Instead of waiting, he requested a paper enrollment application and said he will be mailing it out as soon as possible.

A diabetic since 1990, Womack has been paying $1,400 per month for medication since he lost his company plan in January 2012, he said.

He hadn’t tried to sign up for individual insurance until now, he said, because insurers consider diabetes a pre-existing condition. But when the Affordable Care Act reforms take effect Jan. 1, insurers will be prohibited from denying him coverage.

At least two women who received counseling Wednesday said they were unable to take advantage of the plans they were offered.

“Right now, I can’t afford any because I’m unemployed,” said Brenda Barrow, 53, of Macon.

Barrow has gone without insurance for seven months now after losing her job making egg cartons at Pactiv Advanced Packaging, which burned this year.

She was one of the first to arrive at the enrollment session about 10:30 a.m., she said, and left about 1 p.m.

Her counseling took about 30 minutes, and Barrow said she was glad to receive it, but she doesn’t know what she will do now that she knows she can’t pay for coverage.

Starting in 2014, all Americans are required to have minimum health coverage, qualify for an exemption, or pay a penalty to the government.

A 46-year-old woman, who declined to be named, said she sought counseling after finding out her employer-provided plan premium would increase next month from $105 to $140 per month.

She said she had hoped to find a more affordable plan on the exchange than the one offered by her employer, Ingersoll Rand. Instead, the cheapest plan available to her in the exchange costs $297 per month.

“Premiums are higher than I expected,” she said.

Though Monday is the deadline to sign up for coverage starting next month, people will be able to enroll in the exchange until March. Boyles said she hopes to coordinate another enrollment event in January.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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