October 17, 2013 10:00:21 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
More than two dozen Columbus citizens gathered at the Trotter Convention Center Wednesday afternoon for a tutorial on the Affordable Care Act.
Presented by Health Help Mississippi and Cover Mississippi, the event gave attendees an opportunity to learn how the ACA would directly impact them and their pocketbooks.
Margaret Evans of Columbus is the president of the local AARP and a Medicare recipient. Evans hoped to learn information she could take back to her fellow AARP members.
"I came to get information so that I can answer questions because people are asking me, we have our meetings, and they're asking me all the time," Evans said.
While she is currently receives healthcare coverage and benefits through Medicare, Evans said she is considering signing up under the ACA.
"I might decide to change something," she said. "I'm getting some more information about Mississippi healthcare. I'm interested in seeing if I'm under the right plan or do I need to switch."
Evans was one of many Medicare recipients at Wednesday's meeting. A crowd of approximately 30 citizens, most over the age of 50, questioned the logistics of signing up for ACA. Many complained that healthcare.gov had not been accessible.
Evans said she tried to log on to the website but did not have much luck.
"I tried the other day but I didn't get too far," she said and added, "Most older people don't have computers and emails."
By a show of hands, more than half of the room complained that they too were having issues with the website and would rather apply for health insurance with a pen and paper.
"How do we get the application on paper?" a woman in the crowd asked. "I would rather deal with a face-to-face person than going online. I don't use the Internet."
Healthare.gov has experienced glitches since the website went live on Oct. 1. Lateshia Butler, the Health Help Mississippi representative on hand for Wednesday's meeting, said her office could facilitate a one-on-one question and answer time if some applicants preferred not to use the Internet.
In addition to their complaints about having to go online, several questioned how soon they would be covered under an insurance plan once they signed up. For people who sign up, the government health insurance coverage goes live on Jan. 1.
If you enroll in a private health insurance plan any time between October 1, 2013 and December 15, 2013 and make your first premium payment, your new health coverage starts January 1, 2014.
During the rest of open enrollment, if you enroll between the 1st and 15th day of the month and pay your premium, your coverage begins the first day of the next month. So if you enroll on February 10, 2014, your coverage begins March 1, 2014.
If you enroll between the 16th and the last day of the month and pay your premium, your effective date of coverage will be the first day of the second following month. So if you enroll on February 16, 2014, your coverage starts on April 1, 2014.
Devon Hill said she was not aware of the waiting period or the fact that she could be responsible for bills once she had been granted coverage.
"Normally, and I know this is not based on employers, but from my personal experience with employers, normally if you have a special event or what is called a 'qualifying event' from an employer, normally you would retro date that coverage back," she said.
Despite the fact that she was unaware of the waiting period, Hill said she was pleased with what she learned from the meeting. Hill, who recently received her master's degree and is currently looking for a job, said the ACA could potentially help her if she is not able to afford health insurance.
"There's a lot of people in my boat," she said. "This could help a lot of people."
Betty Jo Miller was laid off in July and is worried about not having health insurance but doesn't think the ACA could help her. Miller has applied for Medicaid but has not yet received a response on her eligibility.
"I got laid off in July and they said you had to file a tax claim (to be eligible) and this will probably be the last year I actually file a tax claim so I don't know how long that will last," she said.
Miller also questioned the penalty that people will be taxed should they choose to remain uninsured.
For the first year, the uninsured will be fined $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater, Glover said. The fine will increase in subsequent years. Miller said the fine is not worth the price.
"If you can afford it you need to get health insurance," she said.
If you have questions about the ACA, visit healthhelpms.org or call Butler at 662-615-6060.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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