WILKES-BARRE — Mary Linda VanMaanen went online to try to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. She couldn’t even get past her name.
“When I tried to do it online, it kept saying it couldn’t verify my identity,” the 62-year-old Bear Creek Township resident said. “And my daughter was helping.”
But at the Volunteers in Medicine clinic on North Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday, VanMaanen was finally getting somewhere with the help of Adrian Ballard, a Marywood University graduate student in social work and health services administration.
Ballard was at the clinic with Wilkes University pharmacy students Richard Harth, Janile Solarek and Aubrielle Smith to help patients and others from the public sign up for insurance under the law known as Obamacare. The students will be there this Tuesday, as well, because the deadline to have health insurance is March 31, under the law.
March 31 deadline
Those without health insurance after March 31 may be assessed a penalty of $95, or 1 percent of their annual household income, whichever is higher, for the 2014 tax year. The next open enrollment period for Marketplace HealthCare insurance is Nov. 15, 2014 through Jan. 15, 2015.
Volunteers in Medicine joined with Wilkes University’s Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and the Advocacy Alliance, Scranton, to offer the two sessions to educate the uninsured and help with sign-ups.
In the first hour and a half on Tuesday, at least 10 people had shown up, said Thomas McHugh, a certified health insurance marketplace navigator with the alliance.
“Without this kind of an outreach, people would be doing it on their own,” McHugh said.
And not always successfully, as VanMaanen found out.
Ballard was about 20 minutes into the process of helping VanMaanen and said he was about halfway through.
“I got a lot further than I did before,” said VanMaanen, who works part-time in a veterinarian’s office.
“It asks questions about income,” Ballard said. “If they have a tax statement, it goes a lot quicker.”
Solarek, of Wilkes-Barre, one of the pharmacy students, said that after helping one woman sign up, they were still awaiting word to see if the woman qualified for Medicaid.
“We put her through,” Solarek said. “I’m not sure what she’ll be paying — $200 (a month) at this point.”
That’s without Medicaid. On a salary of $9,000 a year, that’s a steep bill.
Volunteers in Medicine began its education about the health insurance law in October, after patients at the clinic for low income, uninsured workers started asking about the process, said clinic intern Donald Barnes, a social work graduate student at Marywood.
The help in applying for the health insurance on healthcare.gov is open to the public, as well as clinic patients, said VIM Executive Director Kelly L. Ranieli. She said some have called for appointments, but walk-ins are welcome.
Barnes said students also have been at the clinic on most Mondays and Tuesdays to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act.
“Somebody asked if they could be arrested if they don’t have insurance,” he said. “That was a real question, not tongue-in-cheek.”
Others thought the deductibles would be as high as $10,000 or $11,000, but there is a cap of $6,350 on those charges, Barnes said.
Many were not even aware of the new law, Ranieli said.
“So we decided to get some folks trained and give our patients some information,” she said.
Ed Foote, a professor in the university’s pharmacy school, said the school will offer another program for the public on March 29 at the school.