Affordable Care Act advocates push last-minute signups

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Holding a stack of fliers, Barb Valaw roamed Downtown Tuesday afternoon to inform people about the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Most of the people she spoke with said they were insured. One man said his fiance lacked insurance, and peppered Ms. Valaw with questions. Regardless of whether they said they were insured or not, Ms. Valaw handed everyone fliers about the ACA and asked them to remind friends and family about the deadline.

“We expect that a lot of people will wait until the last minute, because believe it or not, people procrastinate,” she said.

Activists rally for Affordable Care Act

Activists rallied Downtown today to call attention to the approaching registration deadline for healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act. (video by Nate Guidry; 3/18/2014)

Ms. Valaw was part of an effort by Organizing for Action, a nonprofit that advocates for President Barack Obama’s agenda to spread the word about the deadline. If the uninsured who qualify for the act don’t sign up by March 31, they’ll have to pay a $95 fee or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater, on their next federal tax return.

Holding signs that read “Enroll Now!” and “13 days left,” Ms. Valaw and a handful of other volunteers met on the steps of the City-County Building to announce success stories about the act before fanning across Downtown to hand out fliers.

The Affordable Care Act has sparked political rancor with the troubled roll-out of the federal healthcare exchange,, and reports that new regulations have caused some insurers to cancel plans. The volunteers were determined to offer a rebuttal to the criticisms, pointing out that millions have become insured through the act.

“Have you heard of a successful tech roll-out in the past 10 years? It’s not all about the website,” said Organizing for Action volunteer Bridget Barrett of Baldwin. “The main focus is that people can get healthcare without having to fight through healthcare companies.”

Dana Siperko, a University of Pittsburgh undergraduate who lives in Oakland, took a microphone to tell passersby about how the Affordable Care Act made birth control affordable for her. She touted the bill’s effect on womens’ health.

“It allows them to be responsible,” she said in an interview. “I think [healthcare] needs to be a lot more equitable, to give low-income women more control.”

Another speaker, Joseph Lucas, said he was refused insurance after suffering an aortic aneurysm in 2010. In November, he enrolled for insurance on and is now satisfied with his coverage.

“After all the bugs were worked out, it went fairly smoothly,” Mr. Lucas said, referring to the website.

Mohammed Kadhil was waiting at a bus stop with his wife and toddler when a volunteer approached him with a pamphlet. He and his wife, who immigrated to the United States from Iraq two years ago, don’t have insurance but plan to go to the Squirrel Hill Health Center to sign up on Wednesday. Their daughter, who is a U.S. citizen, has insurance.

“I’m low-income,” Mr. Kadhil said. “This is good for me.”

One of the passersby Ms. Valaw spoke with, Linda Lovejoy of Knoxville, said she was uninsured but that her income was too low to qualify for coverage under the law. She’s part of the “Medicaid gap” — people who were intended to receive coverage through a part of the Affordable Care Act that expanded Medicaid. The Supreme Court later decided the expansion was optional for states.

Organizing for Action volunteers criticized Republican Governor Tom Corbett for declining to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania. He has proposed a plan for expansion that includes a requirement for work-search or job training.

“We need to make sure that people in the Medicaid gap get what they need,” Ms. Barrett said.

First Published March 18, 2014 3:29 PM

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