Health insurance deadline looms for state's uninsured

Richard Conn

The clock is ticking for those who have not yet signed up for state-mandated health insurance to avoid a tax penalty.

Those who can afford health insurance but don't enroll by Thursday won't be processed and covered by Dec. 31 and will lose their personal exemption of $219 when they file their state income tax return.

Next year, penalties will increase significantly and accrue for each month that someone does not have insurance.

Dick Powers, spokesman for the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, said yesterday the agency last week sent out mailers to 3.3 million tax filers to notify them about the impending Nov. 15 deadline. He said the state is also in the midst of an aggressive advertising campaign in the media to encourage people to sign up quickly.

Marty Cohen, president and CEO of the MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation, said he's seen a marked increase in the number of enrollees recently.

``I think it's like anything - folks wait until the last minute, and now folks are starting to get the word and it's, `Wait a minute, I better have this done,''' Cohen said. ``We're starting to see an urgency you didn't see in September or October.''

Brian Rosman, research director for Health Care for All - a statewide group dedicated to improving access to health care - said that some private insurers may be able to complete the enrollment process more quickly than the 4-6 week process expected with the state. ``We're advising people not to wait until the last minute, because there are a lot of things that could mess you up along the way,'' Rosman said.

The Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority's Web Site at www.mahealthcollector.org features charts which detail the best insurance plans based on a person's level of income. The agency can also be reached by phone at 1-877-MA-ENROLL.

Rosman said those who have not yet signed up can also check with the state whether they could be eligible for a hardship exemption. He said people who would not be able to purchase insurance because it would affect their ability to pay for basic necessities such as food or those who under a financial hardship because they have to take care of a family member could qualify for that exemption.

The MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation has participated in public awareness campaigns and recently awarded a grant to Middlesex Legal Services to help with the enrollment process, particularly with appeals of people who have been rejected for the state's low-income coverage option, Cohen said. Powers said that between 90 to 95 percent of people in the state have health insurance.

He said people still without coverage aren't just limited to those who are either unemployed or have low incomes.

``There are some who just choose not to purchase it,'' Powers said.

About 200,000 people statewide have signed up for health insurance during the last year, according to the state.

Richard Conn can be contacted at 508-626-4338 or rconn@cnc.com. MetroWest Daily News staff member Peter Reuell contributed to this report.