CREDIT: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images
On Tuesday, Obamacare’s state-level insurance marketplaces — also called “exchanges” — opened to the public. It marked the first day of a six-month enrollment period that will allow uninsured Americans to shop for a health plan that meets their needs. Considering the confusion that’s been swirling around the health care reform law, it wasn’t clear how many people would take advantage of the new opportunity to enroll for coverage on Tuesday. But initial reports suggest there was a strong public appetite for learning more about Obamacare, and enrollment centers around the country were swamped helping a flood of interested people sign up.
Here are just a few examples of the people who were so eager to sign up for Obamacare that they started the process on the very first day:
Mary Jones from Alabama: Jones has gone without health insurance for years because she hasn’t been able to afford it. Her husband is eligible for Medicare, but Jones’ private insurance options are too expensive and offer coverage that’s too skimpy for her needs. “It’s a great feeling being able to have affordable health care and I thank God, the president, and the United States of America for being able to have it,” Jones told the Anniston Star after signing up for a plan under Obamacare on Tuesday. Her husband, Marvin, agreed. “The premiums for this are lower, hundreds of dollars a month lower. And it offers all the coverage my wife needs,” he noted.
Phyllis Brown from Arizona: 58-year-old Brown lost her Medicaid coverage when the state contracted coverage for childless adults in 2011, and has gone uninsured since then. She’s struggled with high blood pressure and heart problems, has been hospitalized four time, and ended up accumulating at least $20,000 in unpaid medical bills. She says she once went for months without taking her heart medication because she couldn’t afford it. Now, under Obamacare, she’s eligible for public insurance again. The Arizona Republic reports that Brown was “thrilled” to enroll on Tuesday. “I couldn’t wait,” she said. “It’s a big relief.”
Andrew Stryker from California: 34-year-old Stryker does freelance work in Los Angeles. He currently pays about $600 per month to stay on the insurance plan he got through his last job, and wants to get a cheaper plan under Obamacare. He logged onto California’s exchange site on Tuesday — and even though the website had some delays, he waited it out until he could successfully complete the sign-up process. “Obviously three hours is a long time to wait, but it will save me over $6,000. For that, I would have waited all day,” Styker told Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff.
Brendan Mahoney from Connecticut: 30-year-old Mahoney is a law student who can’t afford the premiums for the health plan that the University of Connecticut offers, and doesn’t want to keep paying for the high-deductible plan that he purchased on his own. He logged onto his state’s exchange website on Tuesday to see if he could get cheaper coverage under Obamacare — and he found out he’s actually eligible for Medicaid thanks to the health law’s expansion of the program. That means he won’t have to pay any premiums at all next year. He had to try to the website twice, but then it worked well. “Once it got running, it was fast,” Mahoney told the Hartford Courant. “It really made my day.”
Sarah Heller from Delaware: 49-year-old Heller started the enrollment process on Tuesday with the help of a navigator. The Delaware News Journal reports that beginning to sign up for health insurance brought tears to her eyes. Heller doesn’t have health insurance, and currently relies on a community health program for her essential care — but now, she wants to sign up for her own insurance plan. “I’m a wife, a mother of two, grandmother of three and a hardworking American,” Heller said at a public event on Tuesday to mark the start of enrollment, noting that she wants insurance to make sure she can see her grandchildren grow up and enjoy attending their baseball games.
Alex Gomez from Florida: Gomez, a 38-year-old father of four, is a self-employed painting contractor. He currently pays $500 each month for a high-deductible insurance plan, and he told a local NBC affiliate that he wants to purchase a cheaper plan under Obamacare. So he visited a local health center to figure out his options. “Nobody knows what Obamacare is. One person says it’s going to be good, another person says it’s going to be bad,” Gomez noted. He didn’t realize that he would be eligible for a federal subsidy to help him afford insurance on Florida’s exchange — but he found out on Tuesday. “That’s good news for me,” Gomez said.
Colton Cope from Kentucky: Cope is a 21-year-old student at Jefferson Community College. He works two part-time jobs, but he hasn’t been able to afford health insurance for several years. He went to an Obamacare sign-up event at Jefferson Community & Technical College on Tuesday and found out that he qualified for Medicaid coverage under Obamacare’s expansion of the program. Cope didn’t sign up immediately, but he gathered the paperwork he’ll need to do it. He told the Courier-Journal he didn’t mind waiting to officially enroll because he’s spent years worrying that he was “one accident or medical issue away from bankruptcy.” He walked out grinning, saying, “I’m going to have health insurance!”
Paula Triplett from Michigan: Triplett, a former community college teacher who is now on dialysis, currently pays $940 a month for her insurance. She can’t go without the expensive coverage because she needs to be insured to remain on the kidney transplant list — and now, she’s excited to be able to sign up for a cheaper option under Obamacare. She believes her premiums under the health law will drop to $250 a month. “This really is historic,” Triplett told Michigan Live. “It’s exciting. This stuff is so good. I hope everybody takes a look at it.” Even though Triplett had initial issues using the exchange website, she wasn’t deterred by the glitches. “I’m not mad. I’m not frustrated,” she said, pointing out that there are probably delays because so many people are trying to use the website at the same time.
Paula Thornhill from Virginia: Thornhill, a 31-year-old mother of seven, was the first person to apply for Obamacare in Prince George’s County. Thornhill didn’t initially know much about the health reform law, but she was eager to apply with the help of a community coordinator. Although her husband gets health insurance through his job, they can’t currently afford to extend his coverage to Thornhill because the premiums are hundreds of dollars each month. “I’m relieved that they did come out with this affordable health care,” she told the Washington Post. “I’m relieved.”
Technological issues have prevented some people from successfully completing their enrollment process. On Tuesday afternoon, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services said they have been working to resolve the website glitches, and expect the process to be smoother going forward. “Whether you sign up today or tomorrow, you have until December 15 to sign up for coverage that begins January 1. We’re in a marathon, not a sprint,” Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted on a call with reporters.