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NYS Health Enrollment Numbers Up For 2015

New York State of Health

With just one month remaining to sign up for online marketplace health insurance this year, outreach efforts are on the fast-track. Consumers who do not sign up by the end of business today will not have health coverage that starts on February 1.

Federal officials expect approximately 10 million people to enroll for health insurance on state and federal marketplaces this year, falling far short of 13 million the Congressional Budget Office had anticipated.

Department of Health and Human Services numbers out Wednesday show nearly 6.8 million people have either selected a health plan or re-enrolled into coverage in the 37 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov website.

New York is one of 13 states that operate their own marketplaces, and New York Health Benefit Exchange Executive Director Donna Frescatore says the number of New Yorkers enrolling under the Affordable Care Act has been rising since a total of 225,244 newly insured was reported in late December.

Peter Lee, Executive Director of "Covered California,"  stresses the importance of enrollment: "Deadlines matter. One of the important deadlines we wanna make sure consumers know about is the deadline not just of February 15th but of January 15th."

January 15th marks the deadline to be covered as of February 1st.   "That means hundreds of thousands of consumers across the nation are at risk for going a month without coverage. We know consumers wait 'til the last minute, we want to get the message out as much as possible, that going a day without insurance is a day you are at risk for going in debt, a day you are going at risk for facing an illness that could have been avoided and treated earlier."

Frescatore says New York has launched a batch of new initiatives.   "Including a statewide shopping mall tour that we call 'Sign Up New York,' that offers information and encourages enrollment of people throughout New York State. So between Jaunuary 2nd when our outreach campaign began and February 15th we will be in shopping malls across New York State, all the way from Buffalo on the Pennsylvania border to up north in Plattsburgh, to New York City, Long Island and the middle of the state. To help people get information, ask questions and get answers to questions, to make appointments, to sign up with one of our certified assistors. And we've entered into a partnership with Marvel Superheroes. So at select locations and select dates throughout the period from now until February 15th, we are joined by Marvel Superheroes including Iron Man, including Captain America, including Thor, to help us engage consumers in a friendly place."

Freascatore and Lee made their remarks during a Wednesday media teleconference held under the auspices of Families USA, a pro-ACA national nonprofit organization for health care consumers.

Frescatore says she expects to see growth when New York's numbers are totaled next month, citing the Marvel Superheroes as well as an increased media presence.   "We have TV and radio commercials in English and Spanish and in Mandarin. We've also introduced a new series of videos. Kind of fun, animated, videos that are either instructional in nature or informational. So, adding to our 'How to renew' video and 'How to pick a plan' video, we've recently released a video about having health insurance as your ultimate safety net, it follows an animated character through a number of injuries and trials and tribulations, pointing out the importance of having coverage."

Dave Lucas: "Between the last Families USA conference call you appeared on and now, what kind of a report card would you give New York in the way of progress in pushing this initiative forward?"

Donna Frescatore:  "Enrollment continues to grow steadily. Our call center is very busy, not only handling consumers who enrolled last year, who might have questions, but also working with new consumers who are enrolling for the first time. We have certainly increased our outreach on the ground, as compared to our first open enrollment period, our assistors over 10,000 certified assistors between navigators, certified application counselors and licensed insurance brokers who are certified by the marketplace are on the ground in communities. We've done over 600 events throughout the state including the 'Sign Up New York' mall tour that I mentioned, including partnerships with supermarket and pharmacy chains, as well as being in community places like libraries and salons and places where people go in the neighborhoods where they live and work."

Federal law requires people to have nine months of continuous coverage to avoid fines. To be clear, the open enrollment period began November 15th. Consumers who enroll in insurance plans by the February 15th deadline will see their health coverage begin as early as March 1st.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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