Shots - Health News
2:35 am
Mon March 24, 2014

Customers Rush To Retail Store In Connecticut To Buy Obamacare

Originally published on Mon March 24, 2014 11:25 am

Mike Dunn stands inside a store in downtown New Haven, looking through the big glass windows at his future customers outside. He's not selling phones or food or clothes. He's selling Obamacare.

There's one week left to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and states have gone to great lengths to enroll as many people up as possible. In Connecticut, the exchange has opened two retail storefronts where people can walk in and sign up.

"So, it's just about 10 o'clock when we open up, and we're just starting to see lines forming for people coming in as soon as we open," he says.

That's become normal, he says, as the March 31 deadline for enrolling in Obamacare approaches. With just days to go, Connecticut's exchange, Access Health CT, has done a better job than most states at enrolling people who are eligible. Strategies like opening a retail store like this one may have played a role in that.

A few dozen people have come to check out their health insurance options. Debra White, 63, pays $300 a month to cover herself and her husband. That's about a quarter of her monthly income. She can manage. But it's not easy.

"I do have insurance, but I'm coming to see if I can lower the payment because I'm on a fixed income," she explains.

Many say what drew them in was the idea of signing up for insurance in person — not on the phone, not on the computer, nor the smartphone.

"It makes it easier for me to converse with another person," White says. "When I'm on the computer and everything, it's confusing. Frustrating. Especially this time. I had a stroke, so at this time in my life it's a little difficult."

White is here with her grandson, Robert Taylor, 21. He works retail part time, and he goes to community college. He doesn't have insurance at all and he's here to get it.

"I'm healthy and I really don't make too many trips to the doctors," he says. "It's just, when I do, I'd like to have a different way of paying for it other than coming out of my pocket."

Michelle Perez is next in line for someone who speaks Spanish. She says she's here to figure out if the new health insurance law can help her save some money.

She's holding a medical bill for a recent doctor's visit. Because of the state's Medicaid rules, she says she has to pay. She's diabetic and unemployed. And she's here so someone can explain her options to her.

Also waiting for a broker is DeLisa Tolson. She lost her insurance when she got divorced three years ago. Since then, she's gone to the emergency room and to mobile health vans for care.

"Even though they did a lot for me on the medical van, there were just some things they just couldn't do," she says. "And so, as far as mammograms and Pap smears, and being over 40, I decided it was time that I came down here and got Access Health."

That was three weeks ago. Starting April 1, she'll pay $86 a month for her insurance. That's a lot better than the roughly $240 a month she had priced before.

Today she's back, bringing a friend in to enroll.

"I came home and I explained to all of my friends how easy it was and how comfortable it was," Tolson says. "It didn't take long at all, either. I was in-and-out within like 45 minutes to an hour. I felt very welcome. It was a very warm environment. It was nice."

The state's health care exchange says that Tolson is one of 10,000 people to have walked into one of its two retail stores — and that she's one of 5,000 to have actually enrolled.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WNPR and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2014 Connecticut Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnpr.org.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. There is one week left to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for this year and states have gone to different lengths to enroll as many people up as possible. In Connecticut, the state-run insurance exchange has opened two retail storefronts where people can walk in and sign up. Jeff Cohen of our member station WNPR visited one of them to see who's coming in as the enrollment clock runs out.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Mike Dunn is standing inside a retail store in downtown New Haven, looking through the big glass windows at his future customers outside. He's not selling phones or food or clothes. He's selling Obamacare.

MIKE DUNN: So, it's just about 10:00 when we open up and we're just starting to see a line forming for people coming in as soon as we open at 10:00.

COHEN: Is that normal?

DUNN: It is, especially as we get closer to March 31st.

COHEN: That's the deadline for enrolling in Obamacare. With just days to go, Connecticut's exchange, Access Health CT, has done a better job than most states at enrolling those who are eligible. Strategies like opening a retail store like this one may have played a roll in that. This morning, a few dozen people of various backgrounds have come to check out their health insurance options.

And many say what drew them in was the idea of signing up for insurance in person - not on the phone, not on the computer, not on the Smartphone.

DEBRA WHITE: I do have insurance, but I'm coming here to see if I can lower the payment because I'm on a fixed income.

COHEN: That's Debra White. She's 63 and pays $300 a month to cover herself and her husband. That's about a quarter of her monthly income. She can manage but it's not easy. So she wants to see if she can pay less.

WHITE: It makes it easier for me to converse with another person. When I'm on the computer and everything, it's confusing. Frustrating. Especially this time - I had a stroke - so, at this time in my life, you know, it's a little difficult.

COHEN: White is here with Robert Taylor, her grandson. He's 21, works retail part-time, and he goes to community college. He doesn't have insurance at all and he's here to get it.

ROBERT TAYLOR: I'm healthy and I really don't make too many trips to the doctors. It's just, when I do, I'd like to have a different way of paying for it other than coming out of my pocket.

COHEN: Michelle Perez is next in line for someone who speaks Spanish. She says she's here to figure out if the new health insurance law can help her save some money.

MICHELLE PEREZ: (speaks Spanish)

COHEN: In her hand is a bill for a recent doctor's visit that, because of the state's Medicaid rules, she says she has to pay. She's diabetic and unemployed. And she's here so someone can explain her options to her face-to-face. Also waiting for a broker is DeLisa Tolson. She lost her insurance when she got divorced three years ago. Since then, she's gone to the emergency room and to mobile health vans for care.

DELISA TOLSON: There were just some things they just couldn't do. And so, as far as mammograms and Papp smears, and being over 40, I decided it was time that I came down here and got Access Health.

COHEN: That's what she did - three weeks ago. And, starting April 1, she'll pay $86 a month for her insurance. That's a lot better than the roughly $240 a month she had priced out before. But today she's here with someone else.

TOLSON: I'm bringing a friend. I came home and I explained - I explained to all of my friends - how easy it was and how comfortable it was. It didn't take long at all, either. I was in-and-out within like 45 minutes to an hour. It was nice.

COHEN: Are you sure they're not paying you to tell me all of this stuff?

TOLSON: No.

COHEN: The state's health care exchange says that Tolson is one of 10,000 people to have walked into one of its two retail stores -- and that she's one of 5,000 to have actually enrolled. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen.

INSKEEP: His story comes to us as part of a reporting partnership with NPR News, WNPR and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.