The notorious website glitches associated with the rollout of Obamacare may be only part of the reason that it is getting off to a slow and rocky start. The other reason may be the complexity of the insurance system and widespread ignorance about how it works.
At least that’s the impression that The Brooklyn Ink gathered from a visit to an information session this week about the Affordable Care Act held in South Brooklyn.
Nationwide, a little more than 106,000 successfully signed up for healthcare during the law’s first month, according to data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—a figure much smaller than the 500,000 expected. The blame was placed mainly on technical problems with HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange where residents in many states must go to purchase insurance. Two thirds of the “high-priority bugs” in the system have been fixed, according to congressional testimony this week.
New York, which runs its own healthcare exchange, is doing better. As of November 12th, 48,162 people had enrolled in a low-cost health insurance plan and 197,011 had completed the full application process and been determined eligible for the program, according to officials from the New York State Department of Health. Still, this is a small percentage of the 1,675,731 people who are uninsured in New York state. Out of that number, 271,457 live in Brooklyn, according to a report released by the Urban Institute Health Policy Center in January.
A major roadblock for Obamacare seems to be a lack of education about how it works. At least that’s how Deborah Carter sees it. Carter, 57, is president of the Gravesend Houses Resident Association in Coney Island, and traveled to an information workshop over the weekend at Christ Temple United Baptist Church, 2678 86th Street, in South Brooklyn.
“I came here for my people,” she said. “They’re afraid that they’ll have to pay more and they really need a better understanding. People are asking questions about this,” said Carter, who represents 1,680 residents in her housing complex.
The event, which was sponsored by the National Action Network of South Brooklyn Chapter, a civil rights organization founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton, is one of a series of three that will be taking place in South Brooklyn in the next few months.
Queenie Huling, 65, the President of NAN South Brooklyn, organized the South Brooklyn event with the help of Reverend Frank Mason, who leads Christ Temple United. Huling said it was important to make all of the resources physically available for the community, referring to the navigators from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the state-certified counselors who were on hand to provide the public with answers and to help those eligible for coverage with their sign-up.
“It gave the public an opportunity to ask the questions. Things like: ‘How does it work? What are the benefits for the public?’ A lot of people have those questions,” said Huling.
Rican Vargas, of Coney Island, was one of the 53 people – all who ranged from middle-aged to senior citizens – who showed up at the workshop on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Vargas, who runs his own business, doesn’t have health insurance. “It’s crazy times, man,” he said later, over the phone. “They need to get it together with this whole Affordable Healthcare Act thing.”
One of the navigators on site was able to get Vargas enrolled, and like him, 13 others were also assisted though not all of them enrolled in a health plan by the day’s end.
“You have some people that don’t have computers, that don’t have access to computers, or that are not computer literate—at least not enough to walk through the whole enrollment process alone,” Huling said. “The process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, so imagine the person who isn’t computer literate. How long do you think it would take them?” she asked.
Shem Hing, 34, who works for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce as a navigator at two Brooklyn public libraries—in Sunset Park and Kings Highway—says he deals with all kinds of people and not with people who fit a specific stereotype associated with government assistance.
“I meet all kinds of people here, very interesting people,” Hing said. “I’ve met businessmen, musicians, artists, immigrants. People who work, people who don’t work.”
The common denominator, he says, is always that “I could help them.”
“I know it’s busy here, but it’s not enough.,” Hing added. “We want to get people coverage.”
The deadline to enroll for coverage that starts on Jan. 1 is Dec. 15, and those who don’t sign up and remain uninsured will have until March 31 to enroll or risk being fined as much as 1 percent of their income.
For more information on available counseling schedules through the Brooklyn Public Library System and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, please refer to this link.