More than 812K in NY sign up for health insurance

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — More than 100,000 New York residents have enrolled for health insurance in the past week under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, boosting total statewide enrollment to 812,000 heading into the final day of sign-ups Monday, state officials said.

More than 70 percent of enrollees had been without health insurance before choosing from among four levels of coverage offered by 16 insurers in the state’s online health plan marketplace.

Allison Webb hadn’t had been insured since 2005 before signing up over the weekend at a Community Health Network clinic in Long Island City.

“Luckily I haven’t been sick,” said Webb, 29, who works full time for a messenger service that does not provide health insurance. After choosing a comprehensive medical and dental plan that will cost her about $60 per month, Webb can start going to doctors or a dentist once it kicks in in May.

“I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” she said.

New York is on pace to meet its goal of enrolling 1.1 million people by the end of 2016, health officials said. Nationally, the Obama administration said more than 6 million Americans have signed up for insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Sam Unterricht is starting to see some new enrollees come in for care, but he said not all are familiar with the nuts and bolts of the plans they chose.

“That’s a problem, especially with deductibles,” said Unterricht, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, “because the deductibles are so high in many cases and most of the people that have signed up are not wealthy people.

“They can’t afford to pay a $6,000 deductible before they get substantial benefits out of a plan,” Unterricht said. “They’ve basically purchased catastrophic insurance, many of them.”

The so-called navigators tasked with helping patients understand and choose a plan found themselves explaining concepts like in- and out-of-network fees, co-pays and cost-sharing to people hearing them for the first time, said Jennifer Nichols, senior director of revenue cycle operations for Buffalo-based Kaleida Health, which received a grant to guide people through the New York Health Benefit Exchange. The in-person appointments which had been expected to take about 30 minutes stretched on average to 90 minutes.

“Some of them never had coverage before,” she said. “So they’re coming in and having to understand a lot of very complicated information in a short period of time to make a decision that they have to stick with for a year.”

In the last few months, New York City has beefed up its media outreach efforts to appeal to the Spanish-speaking community through subway ads, Spanish language radio spots and newspapers ads, said Dr. Mary Bassett, the city’s health commissioner. The initial rollout out of the state’s campaign was lacking in the Spanish-language component, which may have prevented immigrants from enrolling.

There is frustration among doctors, too, Unterricht said, because the patients’ health insurance cards often don’t list a patient’s deductible, and it can be difficult to find out from an insurer the outstanding balance, or whether a patient is in the 90-day grace period allowed before their coverage can be cancelled for non-payment.

“The exchange has been up and running for a while and the New York exchange is one of the best,” he said, “but the actual Affordable Care Act and the functioning of the different plans has only just begun and we’re going to be discovering more and more problems and issues as time goes by.”

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Associated Press Writers Meghan Barr and Karen Matthews contributed from New York City.

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