Uninsured Tennesseans have until next Monday to sign up for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act.
If they don’t enroll by then, they’ll face a fine (in the form of a tax penalty) and won’t be able to get insurance until next year.
Rick McDowell, a 58-year-old janitor who works downtown, felt the deadline approaching.
So on Monday he signed up for coverage by calling the federal health-care hotline.
“I’m relieved, really,” he says. “I knew it was something I needed. I couldn’t afford to pay the penalty, so I really needed to do that.”
After a 45-minute call, he landed a subsidized plan, and it’ll cost him about $74 a month.
McDowell joins more than 78,000 other Tennesseans who have signed up for coverage through a health exchange. Tennessee has signed up more uninsured people than most other states its size.
Over the next week, the local Obamacare office is expecting a rush.
The next time the uninsured can buy a plan, barring a life-changing event, is in November. Those policies will start in 2015.
Gov. Bill Haslam last year announced that he would not expand Medicaid in the state. The Affordable Care Act was created under the assumption that states would expand Medicaid.
By some estimates, that decision may keep 140,000 Tennesseans uninsured.
The federal government has said it would cover the whole cost of expanding Medicaid the first three years and pay for at least 90 percent after that. But Republican leaders fear the federal government would renege on that offer.
Details about Haslam’s counter-proposal, dubbed the Tennessee Plan, have not been publicly released. But Haslam said they are still under negotiation with federal officials, and his most recent talks with them have made him “more encouraged.”
At first, nearly half of all the calls that came into the local Obamacare office were people who fell into the Medicaid coverage gap, according to one of the office’s health-care navigators. Recently, though, that number has dropped to about a quarter of all calls, in part because the people who aren’t eligible are realizing that they can’t get insurance under the state exchanges.