By Lisa Loving Of The Skanner News
The epic failure of Oregon's Affordable Care Act online signup system is pushing the onus of enrollment back to local communities.
In case you haven't been paying attention, the clock is ticking: You have until Dec. 15 to sign up for health insurance that takes effect Jan. 1, 2014. You have until March 15, 2014, to sign up for insurance by Jan. 1 of 2015 – after which the Internal Revenue Service will begin fining you for non-enrollment.
While it's still unclear why or for how long their site will be out of commission, you can still access much information on www.CoverOregon.com including lists of places in your local area to get help signing up – it's just the actual signup platform itself that isn't working.
|Community partner organizations are provider clinics, local governments, non-profits and community-based groups that conduct outreach and/or enrollment assistance on behalf of Cover Oregon. This assistance is provided at no cost to individuals and families.|
The Skanner News this week decided to test the system by calling up Community Partners and asking about their sign-up help for CoverOregon.
Without identifying ourselves as reporters, we found almost each and every phone line staffed by helpful assistants who seemed genuinely happy to help enroll folks for insurance – not a single person was negative, crabby or unhelpful.
One problem we found though was that many of the sites do not have answering machines, telephone directory messages or receptionists specifically mentioning Affordable Care Act sign-ups, which might cause some potential clients to hang up before getting hooked into a helper.
A few organizations, including Lutheran Services NW, the Coalition of Community Health Clinics and Home Forward (the Portland Housing Authority) say they will soon be up and helping people; Home Forward specifically says they are sending crews door to door at their properties after the CoverOregon web application starts working.
In any event, most sites are filling out paper applications. Bisi Carter, the Urban League of Portland Affordable Care Act coordinator, stressed that before coming in for an appointment, consumers can save themselves a lot of time, money and hassle by bringing their legal identification, as well as their last month's income information.
That's because one of the most important parts of the process is determining whether a given client is eligible for financial assistance or other payment help.
So, while the headlines paint a picture of a troubled system, scores of cheerful helpers are waiting by phones in every corner of the county to help anyone who feels adrift in the CoverOregon process – many offering same-day appointments and most ready to help all those who need it whether or not they may fall within that organization's traditional community.
-- African American Health Coalition, Inc., is offering appointments for signup help. 2800 N. Vancouver Ave., Suite 100, 503-413-1850.
-- Cascade AIDS Project, schedule an appointment for in-person help by calling the HIV/AIDS/STD hotline 503-223-2437; toll- 800-777-2437; in Spanish, 800-499-6940; or email firstname.lastname@example.org; for more on their help go to www.cascadeaids.org/cover-oregon. Further, people who are HIV/AIDS positive can talk to their case manager at Multnomah County HIV clinic to arrange help with the insurance forms; starting in November a Cascade AIDS Project staffer will be at the HIV Day Center every Wednesday; and more locations in the future. 208 SW 5th Avenue Suite 800, 503-223-5907.
-- Central City Concern has multiple staff fulltime dedicated to helping with sign-ups and another 25 "front-line" staff ready to go once the state's website is repaired. 232 NW 6th Ave. Portland, Oregon 97209, 503-294-1681.
-- IRCO/Africa House, main offices, Asian Family Center and Senior Services Center-EPCC Office are all offering in-person enrollment help from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., call and schedule an appointment. IRCO main, 10301 NE Glisan St., Portland, 503-234-1541; IRCO Africa House 631 NE 102nd Ave., Portland, 503-235-9396; IRCO Asian Family Center, 8040 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR , 503-802-0082; IRCO Senior Services Center-EPCC Office, 740 SE 106th Ave., Portland, 503 988-6073.
-- Multnomah County Health Department, referral line, open weekdays 8 a.m. -4:30 p.m., 503-988-2228, the operator schedules you for a group intake (she offered us a meeting on the same day) or a snail-mailed application with instruction booklet.
-- NAMI Oregon, has a dedicated phone staff to help either in person or via telephone (by appointment). 4701 SE 24th Ave. Suite E, 503-230-8009.
-- Native American Rehabilitation Association offers appointments for in-person assistance, they are located at 1776 SW Madison St., 503-231-2641.
-- Native American Youth and Family Center offered to sign us up for an appointment that same day. 5135 NE Columbia Blvd., 503-972-2466.
-- Providence Portland Medical Center is scheduling same-day appointments at 503-215-7575, but this number is actually connected to a clinic in Milwaukee, rather than 4805 NE Glisan St. as it says on the CoverOregon site.
-- Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, at 9205 SW Barnes Rd., is signing people up for same-day appointments at 503-215-7575.
-- The Wallace Medical Concern is building a waiting list for people needing help with their insurance paperwork, but their phone system still doesn't mention CoverOregon – be sure to dial "0" or extension 28 to reach the front desk for help. 124 NE 181st Ave. Suite 103, 503-489-1760.
-- Urban League of Portland has so many people calling for help that they are using a backup answering machine -- leave a message and be prepared to schedule an appointment to come in, also try both extensions. Walk-ins also welcomed. 10 N Russell St., 503-280-2600 ext. 630 or 635.
-- Outside In is taking walk-ins without appointment from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a break for staff at the noon hour. 1132 SW 13th Ave., 503-535-3800.
-- SEIU is focusing their help on home health care providers, who are encouraged to call for phone assistance or an in-person appointment, 6401 SE Foster Rd., 503-408-4090.
-- Rosewood Family Health Center is accepting calls for appointments even if you are not currently a patient there, 8935 SE Powell Blvd., call 503-772-4335.