by Emily Kubis
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made an appearance in Madison Thursday morning alongside Mayor Karl Dean in a last-minute health insurance enrollment push before the looming March 31 deadline.
With only five days left before the insurance deadline for 2014, Dean and Sebelius spoke at the United Neighborhood Health Services Madison clinic, encouraging the uninsured in Nashville to enroll immediately. The fee for not having insurance this year is $95 per adult or 1 percent of your taxable income, whichever is greater, with fees scheduled to increase in the coming years. However, the March 31 deadline has been more or less extended, with the Obama administration announcing this week that individuals who had difficulty signing up can say so as part of the application process to secure an extension.
Sebelius and Dean championed the benefits of affordable insurance as improving community health while reducing the impact on taxpayers. Hospitals are legally prohibited from denying emergency health care to anyone, regardless of a patient's ability to pay, ultimately forcing hospitals and communities to bear the costs of the uninsured, an issue the ACA seeks to solve through the insurance mandates on individuals and employers.
"Taxpayers are picking up a lot of those costs today, when people come through the doors of the emergency room and have no way to pay their bills," Sebelius said.
Hospital companies — including those based in Nashville — aren't complaining. Most are calling the ACA a net positive since it increases the percentage of insured patients, which translates to a solid increase to their bottom lines.
The most recent numbers from the Obama administration show
about 4.2 million people signed up for plans under the federal exchange by the end of February, including nearly 78,000 Tennesseans. Most expect the final count to come in below the government's estimate of 6 million, especially now that time is running out. UPDATE: A Reuters story says that there are more than 6 million enrolled now.
"There are some people out there who need this insurance," Dean said. "You have made it up in your mind to enroll, and now you have to find the time to actually do it. I implore you to make that time. No, it is not too late."
A February report found that federal exchange premiums in Tennessee were some of the cheapest in the nation. At around $180 per month — not including subsidies — for a mid-range silver plan selected by a 40-year-old, Tennessee's premiums came well under the nationwide average of $259 per month, according to analysts with the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Sebelius also bemoaned Governor Bill Haslam's decision not to expand Medicaid in Tennessee, citing 520,000 Tennesseans, 103,000 in Nashville, as qualifying for expanded Medicaid. Though the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for the first few years before gradually reducing its support to 90 percent, Haslam has said the plan's costs are unsustainable for the state in the long term.