With time running out to enroll in the first round of health insurance under the national Affordable Care Act, Harford County health officials have joined those around the country in urging people to sign up.
The first open enrollment period for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, part of the colloquial "Obamacare," ends this Monday, March 31.
The state is not releasing enrollment numbers for each county until open enrollment is over, exchange communications manager Betsy Charlow said Thursday.
Interest in the program has been robust, Harford and state health officials said Thursday. Open enrollment started Oct. 1, 2013.
A March 9 health fair at the Bel Air Library drew widespread interest, Mark Romaninsky, program director for Seedco, said. Seedco is a nonprofit the state is using to help implement health care reform. About 400 people attended the Bel Air event, he said.
"We certainly got a lot of exposure at that event," Romaninsky said of the fair. "The turnout was good."
He said he could not estimate the number of people from Harford who have enrolled to date.
Seedco has had booths at other Harford events, such as the Darlington Apple Festival last fall, Romaninsky said.
The state has a goal of enrolling 260,000 people by the end of the first open enrollment period. As of last Friday, more than 248,000 had signed up, according to exchange officials.
Harford had about 19,526 uninsured residents under the age of 65 prior to open enrollment, Romaninsky said.
Any uninsured residents can sign up for the health exchange by going to http://www.marylandhealthconnection.gov visiting a local "connector entity" such as the Health Department or calling the Consumer Support Center at 1-855-642-8572.
People who would like to meet with someone to provide personal one-on-one assistance, known as assistors and navigators, in Harford County can call 410-996-4839.
The state health exchange issued a statement last Friday saying anyone who had already started an application but had been unable to complete it should contact the state through the customer service number or the website. People in that situation will be called and given special help for coverage that will take effect May 1.
"Consumers who start an application prior to the 3/31/14 close of Open Enrollment but are not able to successfully complete it, will still be able to enroll in health insurance, as long as they call a new hotline at 1-800-396-1961," Romaninsky said in an e-mail.
Romaninsky and the county health department said outreach efforts have been going well, with Maryland Health Connection navigators and assistors on hand to answer questions at the health department, as well as events like the Bel Air health fair.
The state, Seedco and other health care organizations involved in the effort to enroll people have been doing "targeted education and outreach" in Harford so people are informed about the Maryland Health Connection and the Monday deadline, Romaninsky said.
"We have made a concerted effort to inform the public about the multiple ways you can enroll — mail, phone, online, in-person — and that there is personal assistance available to help them through the process," he said.
Romaninsky has not seen trends with regard to age or income among the people who have been enrolling to date, he said.
"The types of people signing up are representative of the overall population of Harford County," he said.
"As the deadline for Open Enrollment approaches, Seedco and our partners are working to ensure that as many people as possible enroll," he added.
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