Denise West, deputy executive director of Brooklyn Perinatal Network, helps New Yorkers sign up for health insurance before the March 31 deadline. Credit: Bess Adler/Metro
On a recent afternoon, the tiny front room at the Brooklyn Perinatal Network in Boerum Hill was packed with New Yorkers eager to enroll for health insurance.
"It's been very, very busy," said Denise West, deputy executive director at the network, one of dozens of organizations in the five boroughs with navigators trained to help New Yorkers and businesses use the state's health exchange, mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Since the launch of NY State of Health in October, more than 1.1 million people across the state have completed applications on the marketplace and more than 782,000 have enrolled.
But as the deadline for 2014 coverage approaches, New Yorkers scramble to sign up before midnight Monday. More than 281,000 people in the state enrolled in just over the last four weeks alone.
West said a steady stream of people -- with and without appointments -- have come to the Brooklyn organization for assistance enrolling in the past few weeks.
"Because it's so late, people are afraid to try on their own," she said.
West said calls to the organization have also increased. On a recent Friday, West helped one man enroll over the phone until about 11 p.m.
"Time just moves by so fast," she said, justifying why some put off the application. West also attributed a recent surge in enrollment to confusion following media reports on technical difficulties with the federal exchange website.
Michael Wallace, a 37-year-old walk-in client at the network, blamed his own procrastination on laziness.
"I need insurance," Wallace said. "I should have done it sooner."
Despite having worked longer hours in the last days of open enrollment, West said said it was an "exciting time." One of the goals of the Brooklyn Perinatal Network is to improve community well being by connecting New Yorkers with health services.
West stressed the importance of health insurance in bettering New Yorkers' lives. In New York City, one in five adults are uninsured, according to the health department.
Until West helped him enroll a few weeks ago, Emroy Caesar, 31, was one of them. A Berkeley College student doing work-study at the network, Caesar said he finally enrolled because he knew his 12-year-old daughter would need shots soon.
"It was very last minute," he admitted. "Down to the wire."
Ways to enroll
Try enrolling online. Notwithstanding technical difficulties, this can take between 20 and 30 minutes if all the necessary information is on hand.
Call the NY State of Health help line: 855-355-5777, which operates Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They can connect you with an application counselor, broker or organization with in-person assistance.
A list of certified navigators, some allowing walk-ins, can also be found online. (West suggests to leave a voicemail message for these groups if they don't immediately answer phone calls.)
There are a number of plans available depending on eligibility, with the four standard tiers: bronze, silver gold and platinum (other plans include silver-cost sharing reduction, catastrophic and American Indian/Alaskan Indian products).
Qualification for subsidies depends on income, location and immigration status (Here's an estimated subsidy calculator.)
When enrolling online or with assistance, make sure to have: Social Security numbers (or document numbers for legal immigrants), birth dates, employer and income information for everyone being enrolled, policy numbers for current insurance and information about job-related health insurance available to those being enrolled
Those uninsured New Yorkers who don't enroll in the exchange are subject to a fee.
While Monday remains the deadline to enroll, "the Marketplace will work with individuals who have made a good faith effort to enroll by the March 31 deadline to complete the enrollment process," according to the NY State of Health.
The next open enrollment period is Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, 2015.