Navigators, assisters, and certified application counselors are the unbiased people who are there helping consumers understand what the Affordable Care Act means for them and the new insurance options available to them through the law. We want to elevate their voices to share the experience of enrolling people and asked enrollment specialists to share their experiences with us in their own words. You can learn more about our work on Outreach and Enrollment here.
I am the director of the Insure Central Texas program at Foundation Communities, a non-profit that offers health plan enrollment and tax preparation assistance to low-income individuals at five locations around Austin, Texas. Our free tax preparation program is well-established, preparing more than 18,000 tax returns each year for individuals and families earning less than $50,000 a year. By offering health plan enrollment and tax preparation assistance at the same locations, we have been able to talk to people about the Affordable Care Act who would otherwise have never considered it.
As clients walk in to have their taxes prepared, a volunteer or staff person with Insure Central Texas asks people if they have health insurance. While we have their attention, we quickly explain that there is no penalty this year but “you may be penalized on your tax return when you file next year if you don’t have health insurance this year.” We explain further that we don’t want people to be surprised by the penalty next year and are available to discuss options. In my first day of screening tax clients at one location, three people I spoke with in the first hour were uninsured and had not considered health insurance. For all three, I used the “See Plans before I Apply” feature on HealthCare.gov, which is a display page that lists available plans based on the person’s age, income and location. By using this feature, I could show that the cost of insurance with the subsidies was much less than they assumed and could be less than the penalty. Two had assumed the penalty would be less and had planned to pay the penalty. One was planning to purchase insurance later in the year, when they thought they could afford it, and did not understand the deadline for open enrollment. After seeing the premiums, all three decided to enroll in health insurance.
Since the tax sites opened in mid-January, we have seen these stories repeat over and over. Last week, Mr. C, a 39-year-old who works part time, had his taxes prepared by one of our long-time dedicated tax volunteers, Eleanor, who also volunteers as a certified application counselor. When Mr. C told Eleanor his job did not offer benefits, she encouraged him to return and apply for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. He did not think he could afford health insurance with his part-time wages, but he followed Eleanor’s advice to come back and get the facts. When Mr. C returned, Eleanor was at the site assisting with health insurance enrollment and she was again paired with Mr. C. That day, he enrolled in a silver plan that costs him $3 a month and, with cost-sharing reductions, has a $500 deductible and $750 maximum out-of-pocket expenses. He also qualified for a premium tax credit of $202 a month, and so his yearly premiums will cost less than the penalty for being uninsured. He said, “Everyone here is so nice but Eleanor is the best!”
Recently, a couple in their early 60s was at our site to have their taxes prepared. Neither had been insured for 15 years. All it took was someone asking if they had insurance and explaining their options for the couple to feel comfortable enrolling in a health plan they had assumed they could not afford. The affable husband was very blunt, stating it was ignorance that kept them from looking into health insurance. He explained that he had believed all of the negative press surrounding the Affordable Care Act—that the prices of new health plans were prohibitively high. As a result, he and his wife assumed they had no option but to wait until they qualified for Medicare. They are now thrilled to have health insurance they can afford and agreed to share their story on Telemundo to encourage others to enroll.
My experience at Insure Central Texas has taught me that connecting with people at tax time has been an effective form of outreach. Without a doubt, it has allowed us to reach people who would otherwise have not enrolled.
— Elizabeth Colvin, Insure Central Texas