Last ditch effort for healthcare enrollments

Erick Johnson | 3/20/2014, 9 a.m.
Dozens of agencies and churches in Liberty City, Overtown and Miami began their final push to sign up thousands of ...
Liberty City residents Katrina Johnson (left) and Sandra  Moultry receive information on Affordable Healthcare enrollment at a healthcare clinic on Saturday at the Belafonte Talcolcy Center.

Dozens of agencies and churches in Liberty City, Overtown and Miami began their final push to sign up thousands of residents who have not enrolled in President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare plan before the deadline at the end of month.

From health clinics to registration drives, community leaders are scrambling to inform and promote the president’s initiative to provide affordable healthcare to millions of Americans who would not otherwise have insurance to cover medical costs.

With time running out, healthcare agents across the city spent last weekend helping residents understand the benefits of the plan. They also worked to dispel common misconceptions that may intimidate residents from seeking help enrolling in the new insurance plan.

But one fact residents and healthcare officials do know. The deadline is March 31 to avoid paying a penalty for not having insurance. After that, only a qualifying event — the birth of a child, a divorce, a job loss, for example — will allow most Americans to get health insurance for the rest of the year.

Enrollment isn’t expected again until Nov. 15, and even policies sold then won’t be effective until Jan. 1, 2015.

At the Belafonte Talcolcy Center in Liberty City, dozens of residents attended a huge health clinic at the park, located at 6161 NW 9th Avenue. The free clinic offered weight and blood pressure checks, pap smears and breast exams, prostate tests, and screening for the skin cancer, diabetes and mental counseling.

The clinic also had a booth for Healthcare enrollments, where University of Miami medical students helped sign up residents online on several laptops. The students were scattered at Community Development Centers all over Miami to help with the effort.

“A lot of people are still unsure about the tax credits and the insurance benefits,” said Maura Shiffman, a community health specialist with the Health Council of South Florida, Inc. “It seems with the deadline, more people are taking to heart the importance of having insurance.”

As of 2 p.m. Saturday, Shiffman said she spoke to 30 people about the healthcare plan. Of that amount, only three had signed up. With one hour to go, she was optimistic.

Liberty City resident Sandra Moultry, who attended the clinic, came to find out more about the insurance costs and benefits to tell her neighbors about the plan.

“We need to be more aware of what’s going on in our community,” she said. “With the health care plan, more people should have been here.”

“The churches have been really helpful,” said Deborah Dion, a worker with South Florida Voices for Working Families an organization that helps low-income residents.

White House officials say the plan is achieving its original purpose, providing affordable health care to the poor and people with pre-existing conditions like cancer, a benefit that wasn’t possible when George W. Bush was in office.

At the Jesse Trice center, about 5,200 people have enrolled so far, according to Annie Neasman, Chief Operating Officer of Jesse Trice, which has health centers throughout Miami-Dade.

That number is likely to increase as Neasman steps up efforts to finish out strong. She said Jesse Trice will partner with the NAACP to hold registration drives to pump up enrollments.

“We’re targeting patients who are uninsured and are regular appointment patients," said Neasman.

So far some 5 millions Americans are enrolled in the plan, far below the goal the president set at 7 million.