The Uninsured Begin Signing Up For Health Coverage

October 01, 2013

Arizonans are beginning to sign up for health insurance on the new federal and state websites. Tuesday was the first day people could purchase plans on the exchange created by the Obama administration and others applied for state Medicaid coverage. 

sign up People interested in Obamacare health insurance or AHCCCS coverage get information about the programs at an Arizona Enroll America information table set up at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix. (Photo by Steve Shadley-KJZZ)

Some computer glitches slowed down enrollment early Tuesday for people who wanted to sign up for the state’s Medicaid program known as AHCCCS, and the federal website where consumers can buy insurance, but later in the day, the technical issues seemed to be corrected. 

Alex Armstrong works at the Greater Phoenix Urban League. 

“Okay, so what we’ll do is we’ll put in your information. Where you live, address, any income information and then after we do that the system is going to let us know whether you are eligible for AHCCCS,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong is helping 58-year-old Ennis Sergeant apply for Medicaid coverage. Sergeant was among thousands of childless adults that state lawmakers removed from the AHCCCS rolls a few years ago to save money during the recession. Sergeant has diabetes and he has to take insulin shots twice a day, but sometimes he does not have enough money to buy his medication, and he feels sick. 

"You have the shakes you have nausea. There’s a lot of problems,” said Sergeant.

But, earlier this year lawmakers approved Gov. Jan Brewer’s bill that will expand AHCCCS care for up to 300,000 patients next year. More than 1 million people do not have insurance in Arizona. 

Sergeant was first in line at the Urban League to apply, but he does not know how to use a computer, so one of the “navigators” helps him fill out the questionnaire. 

“Answer the questions the best I can and hope I can get it," said Sergeant.

Navigators are specially trained employees who help people like Sergeant  figure out the complexities of health insurance. He should know in about a month or so if he will qualify for coverage starting Jan. 1.

Another patient kicked off state Medicaid during the recession and who is applying to get reinstated is Timothy Leffler. He recently lost his job at Arizona State University and now works part-time as a singer at a Phoenix area church. 

“I have type two diabetes and I have what is known as severe herditary neuropathy which started in my arms and legs and has spread to my hands,” said Leffler.

Leffler said he is no longer able to straighten his fingers, and he uses a walker. He said getting around is difficult.  

“There’s a lot of pain involved, so staying on AHCCCS means I can keep the pain at bay,” said Leffler.

A volunteer who is promoting the Obama Administration’s health care act greets people outside of the Burton Barr Library in central Phoenix. The group “Arizona Enroll America” is setting up appointments for anyone who wants an assistant to help them buy insurance on the exchange. 

“I do need this medical insurance, I really do,” said Miguel Orozco. 

He is unemployed and hopes he can qualify for some of the tax breaks and subsidies that some people can get under the federal program. Orozco admits that in the past he has gone to a hospital emergency room for free care. 

“If  I get the flu I’m going to take some medication, but if I get a broken bone and I have to go see a doctor I’m not going to lie to you…and if they are going to take me in without looking at my financial status, I’m not going to pay them,” said Orozco.

Ronald Mays is also uninsured. He is a 58-year-old truck driver in Phoenix. Mays said he has had to cut corners because he could not afford insurance until now. 

“I don’t really get sick, but if it's major I go to the emergency room, or I can just doctor myself,” said Mays.

Mays said he likes that the federal health act requires many patients to help pay their own way. 

“We rely on the government too much to pay our bills, but people need to be a little more responsible and start paying for their own bills and paying for their own health care. So, what we will be doing is relieving the government of responsibilities that it shouldn’t have anyway,” Mays said.

That gets to the core of the debate over Obamacare, whether the federal government should have a role in health care insurance, but a lot of consumers seem to be interested. Near the end of the first day Tuesday, the federal website got more than 3 million visits.