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Days leading up to health insurance deadline are busy

Monday evening marked the end of open-enrollment for people to purchase individual health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and the days leading up to that deadline were busy for organizers across Alabama, to say the least.

Callie Nelson, County Extension Coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Dallas County, said the week leading up to Monday’s deadline was the busiest by far during the signup period.

“It has been crazy,” Nelson said. “The phone has been ringing nonstop and the office lobby had 10 people waiting at 8 a.m. this morning. And it’s been that way all this week.”

Nelson said the people coming through the Extension Office’s door looking for help had been as varied as the insurance plans offered through the marketplace.

“We’ve had every ethnicity and age groups in the county here looking for help,” Nelson said. “There have been so many people that have come in needing insurance and they couldn’t afford or they were looking to get covered because of some pretty serious procedures they needed to have.”

Nelson said Extension Office employees have been busy at other times during the open-enrollment season, but none of those periods compare to what they have seen over the past week.

“We’ve had surges on and off after we would go out and do outreach work,” Nelson said. “It would eventually calm down, but you could always tell when we had been out doing an outreach program.”

Daniel Liss, co-founder of Bama Covered — a student and youth-based organization that worked to educate Alabamians about the Affordable Care Act — said the last week has been busy for his group as well.

Liss said two events organized by Bama Covered in Birmingham and Mobile attracted a total of 482 people to sign up for individual health care coverage over the weekend, along.

“People are looking at this issue from the point of view that their family needs health care, not in terms of local or national politics. That doesn’t matter when you are looking to go to the doctor’s office,” Liss said. “We have done so well in Alabama because this is the most community-oriented place on earth. People have been talking with their family members and church members about this issue.”

While the push to get as many Alabamians signed up before Monday’s deadline appears to be a success, Liss said there is no reason to celebrate just yet.

“This whole experience has exceeded our expectations. On the one hand we had motivated students to talk to tens of thousands of people and hopefully influence thousands of them to sign up, and that feels great,” Liss said.

“But when you think there are over 600,000 uninsured Alabamians, and were talking about getting 15 percent of them insured as a success, it makes you realize this is going to be a long-term effort.”