First two exchange enrollment fairs reveal the need is real

Maryland health exchange enrollment fair at Wicomico Youth & Rec Center in Salisbury, Nov. 22, 2015
Health exchange enrollment fair at the Wicomico Youth & Rec Center in Salisbury, Nov. 22, 2014

The first two enrollment fairs held by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange drew more than 300 people seeking to shop for affordable, quality health coverage the past two weekends. About a dozen people arrived an hour before the scheduled openings to underscore the importance of their mission.

Dozens of trained navigators — from Health Care Access Maryland (HCAM) at the Nov. 15 event in Glen Burnie and from the Lower Shore Health Insurance Assistance Program at the Nov. 22 fair in Salisbury — helped consumers choose from among 57 plans available for 2015.

In Salisbury, we spoke with a woman, still dressed in her cap and uniform from her job at a convenience store chain, who made sure to arrange her schedule to free up a few hours Saturday so she could enroll in person at the fair. A construction worker said he hadn’t had health coverage in spite of his physical job since 2008 when his monthly premium jumped to $1,600 due to his age. He dropped his coverage then. After getting his questions answered by a navigator for nearly an hour on Saturday, he walked away with a plan he found much more affordable and said he was glad to be covered again. Another construction worker said he needed health insurance for he and his wife after she’d lost her cashier’s job, and their coverage, after a local supermarket closed. Because he earns about $37,000 a year — below the $62,920 income limit for a tax subsidy for a household of two — he was eligible for financial assistance through the Affordable Care Act.

A list of future HealthConnectNow! fairs and other enrollment events is available here. Whether someone had enrolled through the Maryland exchange last year or not, everyone interested in coverage for 2015 should enroll or re-enroll by Dec. 18 to qualify for their maximum assistance for coverage that would start on Jan. 1, 2015. The enrollment fairs are free and open to all. Pre-registration is recommended, but walk-ins are welcome.