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Health Care Enrollment Sputtering in NJ

Friday, December 13, 2013

NJPR
A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty)

When it comes to signing up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, New Jersey’s having a tough time. 

New numbers show enrollment has been anything but robust, with only 3,259 enrolled since the federal marketplace opened on Oct. 1.

While better than the first month’s tally, when only 741 New Jerseyans made it through the sluggish federal website, these new numbers are still far below expectations. Healthcare advocates hope the state can enroll 210,000 residents by March.

As a result, Rep. Frank Pallone is urging Gov. Chris Christie to spend $7.5 million in federal taxpayer funds on a better public relations campaign, educating New Jerseyans about exactly where and how to sign up.  

“All we’re really saying is you got this money from the federal government. You can’t spend it on anything else,” Pallone said. “We know you don’t like the Affordable Care Act. But it is the law. And the money should be spent to tell people about it.”

New Jersey is one of 36 states that opted to have the federal government run the insurance enrollment process. Christie chose that route because he said to have the state run it — as New York does — came with too many federal strings.

The governor’s office did not respond for a request to comment.

New Jersey residents who do successfully enroll for health care coverage say they did so only after hitting several roadblocks.

Fifty-eight year old Steven Lamont of Jersey City said that after he lost his job in October, he turned to the federal marketplace’s toll-free number because he wasn’t comfortable signing up on on the website, Healthcare.gov.

But the person answering the phone first told him to go to a location in South Jersey, more than 60 miles away — to get help. When he tried again, he was finally directed closer to home, to the Urban League of Hudson County in Jersey City.

On Thursday, Lamont went the Urban League and left with insurance coverage that will begin Jan. 1. He was surprised to learn that he qualified for Medicaid under the new ACA expanded coverage guidelines.

“I’m really happy. I’m leaving with a really big smile on my face," he said.

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