Editorial

Sign up for health coverage without delay

The deadline to enroll is Monday — and an enrollment fair in Atascadero offers help

letters@thetribunenews.comMarch 26, 2014 

If you haven’t already signed up for health care coverage, time is running out. You have until March 31 — Monday — to do so to avoid paying a penalty.

This first year, the penalty isn’t terribly steep: It’s equivalent to 1 percent of family income or $95 per adult, whichever is higher.

Next year, the penalty goes up to $325 per adult or 2 percent of family income, and in 2016, to $695 or 2.5 percent of income.

We have little doubt that some will do the math and decide that it’s less expensive to pay the penalty, at least this year, than to sign up for insurance. No amount of cajoling is going to reach them. Ditto for those so blinded by opposition to the Obama administration that they’ll avoid “Obamacare” at all costs.

We suspect, though, that most of those who have been procrastinating about enrolling do appreciate the importance of medical coverage, both for themselves and their families.

For their sakes, we ask you to join in spreading the word: Do it now.

If you don’t, not only will you face a fine, you will be unable to sign up for insurance through the health care exchange until the fall, for coverage that begins in January 2015.

Granted, the uninsured will still be treated in emergency rooms after the March 31 deadline. That’s as it should be; no one should be denied access to medical care when they are in immediate need of assistance. Yet one trip to the emergency room can be an economic disaster that will leave families buried in bills for years.

Besides, it’s far better to do what we can to avoid serious illness in the first place through preventive care and screenings, such as mammograms, colonoscopies and skin cancer checks. And there’s a huge advantage to developing a relationship with a primary care doctor we know and trust, rather than having to meet a doctor in the emergency room when we’re scared and sick … or even worse, our kids are scared and sick.

That said, we recognize that the enrollment process itself can be daunting, especially given the well-deserved criticism about early computer glitches, long waits and lack of responsiveness to those with questions about the process.

Help is available, however. An enrollment fair takes place Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the Atascadero library, 6850 Morro Road. The event is sponsored by SEUI-United Healthcare Workers West. Experts will be available to answer questions and to help attendees enroll in Medi-Cal or Covered California.

If you’ve been thinking about enrolling for coverage, but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet, we strongly urge you to at least find out the costs and coverage options. Attend the enrollment fair, or check out insurance online at www.coveredca.com  . Click on “find local help” for a list of dozens of local insurance agents and community organizations, as well as the county Department of Social Services, who all have been trained to help people apply for insurance at no charge.

Avoiding a penalty is one benefit of coverage, but we believe afar more important benefit is to safeguard the health of yourself and your loved ones.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

What to bring to Saturday’s enrollment fair in Atascadero:

(1) Proof of identity, such as driver’s license or passport.

(2) Proof of address, such as a piece of postmarked mail.

(3) Proof of income, such as recent tax filings or 30 days of pay stubs.

(4) Proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, permanent resident card or certificate of citizenship or naturalization.

(5) Also, be prepared to provide date of birth, Social Security number and home ZIP code.

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