It's Last Call For Health Sign-Ups In New Hampshire

Mar 26, 2014

Time is running out for individuals looking to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The cut-off to start the sign-up process is March 31st, and unlike previous deadlines, it looks like this one may actually hold.

That’s got John Carland taking the process more seriously.

“I put things off,” says Carland. “I’m a procrastinator. So, I just put it off until I had to do it, I guess.”

Last October’s less than graceful launch of didn’t provide further motivation. But the 22-year old doesn’t get insurance through his job refilling fire extinguishers, and so…

“Here I am. Apparently the problems are fixed, so I should get on it,” says Carland.

He’s come to an Affordable Care Act sign-up session at the Keene Public Library, where Leigh Niland is offering a hand.

Leigh Niland walks Keene resident John Carland through the process of shopping for health insurance through the exchange.
Credit Todd Bookman / NHPR

She’s what’s called a marketplace assister--one of 50 or so around the state helping people enroll in coverage.

So far, she says things have gone pretty well. But for some this isn’t an easy choice.

“We have had a few people come in probably three times,” says Niland. “They’ve booked several appointments because they’re not sure, or, 'gee, I want to go home and look at this.' And that’s fine, too, it is just at this point, it is kind of decision time.”

March 31st marks the end of the six-month open enrollment window where individuals can shop for insurance and, in most cases, get government-help paying for it.

“It’s really about the money and financial assistance,” says Karen Hicks, project manager for New Hampshire’s consumer outreach efforts. She says they tested possible messages at focus groups.

“We don’t need to spend any time convincing people why health insurance is a good thing. It is really all about what’s going to make it affordable,” says Hicks.

Her group is using $2 million in federal grants to spread that message to the uninsured with mailers, phone-calls and television ads.

So far, more than 21,000 people have signed up, outpacing the federal government’s target. That’s despite outreach efforts getting off to a late start, after Republicans last summer delayed the grant money.

Hicks says that move may have had a silver lining.

“I feel pretty good where we are right now. And obviously some things would have been better had we gotten an earlier start. But in many ways, the timing was fortuitous because our efforts really ramped up once the kinks in the website were worked out,” says Hicks.

But those kinks haven’t helped sell Obamacare.  A UNH poll taken in February showed a majority of residents still oppose the law.

Lisa Kaplan Howe with the advocacy group N.H. Voices for Health says that may change as more people benefit.

“The more that you have real people who either themselves are being impacted, or their families, friends, neighbors…people start to understand that there is something that they will lose if we lose the law,” says Howe.

"If I'm going to be forced into having insurance, I might as well get a good deal on it."

Not everyone is likely to talk up their new insurance. In Keene, John Carland plans on buying a policy, even though he doesn’t support the law.

“I just don’t think you should be forced into having insurance,” says Carland. “But if I’m going to be forced into having insurance, I might as well get a good deal on it.”

Those deals run out March 31st.  The tax penalty for not having coverage starts at $95 or 1% of income, payable next year on your tax return.