There are nine days left to sign up for health insurance coverage for 2019 on the Affordable Care Act marketplace, with open enrollment ending on Dec. 15.
In the first five weeks, new applications were down from last year both in Texas and across the nation, according to weekly enrollment numbers from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
While enrollment has been down statewide, EnrollSA, Bexar County’s volunteer coalition of organizations helping people to enroll in ACA insurance, told the Rivard Report that local certified application counselors have been “busier than [they] have been in the previous couple of years.”
During the last week of enrollment, beginning Dec. 10, EnrollSA support locations will extend their hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Statewide enrollment is down just over 5 percent, with 414,350 people enrolling this year compared to 437,919 after the first five weeks in 2017; nationwide, the federal health care exchange is off about 11 percent at 3.2 million, down from 3.6 million last year.
“While we do not have any County-specific numbers, our enrollment numbers as a coalition have actually gone up from last year,” said EnrollSA Co-Chair Joe Ibarra. Despite losing 90 percent of federal funding for outreach and advertising, local contributions from Methodist Healthcare Ministries and CentroMed allowed his organization to hire additional enrollment specialists, he said.
While health care advocates agree marketplace advertising and assistance are key to maintaining and increasing enrollment, only two community organizations in Texas – Change Happens, a clinic based in Houston, and MHP Salud, a community health group working in the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and El Paso – received federal funding for health insurance navigator programs for 2019 coverage, totaling $1.3 million in grants.
In Bexar County, Daughters of Charity was the only organization operating as a federally funded navigator program. But it, too, lost its federal funding for 2019 enrollment assistance, resulting in 15 fewer navigators to help local residents, Ibarra said. “Local funding for the coalition helped us hire a few more enrollers, but the loss is making us busier than we have been in years past, and we are also ahead of pace from years past with more people” seeking enrollment assistance, he said.
About 1 million Texans signed up for ACA coverage for 2018, according to CMS reports, including 73,621 Bexar County residents, with adults age 55-64 leading local enrollment rates. A study by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 90 percent of Texans enrolled in ACA plans were eligible for subsidies to offset the monthly cost.
Enrollment assistance is available at most public library branches and CentroMed clinics, among other locations, and also can be scheduled by calling either 2-1-1 or 3-1-1. Walk-in appointments next week are available at the CentroMed South Side Clinic (3750 Commercial Ave.) and the Walzem Clinic (5542 Walzem Rd.), but Ibarra recommends scheduling an appointment on the coalition website.
“We like to say that all roads lead to our appointment tool,” Ibarra said, noting the online scheduling portal helps connect people to the enrollment location closest to them, at the time that works best with their schedule.