An information table hosted by Georgia’s 2018 Obamacare navigator, Georgia Refugee Health and Mental Health. Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, began Nov. 1 in Georgia and closes Dec. 15, unless the state gets an extension. Enrollment in Georgia has been lagging behind last year, which also lagged behind 2016. (PHOTO by ARIEL HART / ahart@ajc.com)
Photo: PHOTO by Ariel Hart
Photo: PHOTO by Ariel Hart

Obamacare open enrollment ends Saturday, but extension is possible

Saturday is the last day when Georgians can sign up for 2019 health plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Enrollment has been lagging across the country, including in Georgia. Reasons could include less money being dedicated to outreach and advertising this year; more people receiving coverage through employer-sponsored insurance; and confusion about the status of the Obamacare program.

Just this week a Washington-based organization, the Sunlight Foundation, revealed that in the middle of the open enrollment period, which began Nov. 1, the federal government rearranged the Obamacare website to remove the explanatory button on how to apply by telephone with federal help. It also removed a page on how to guide Latino customers through open enrollment.

The agency that runs the website said in a statement that the website prominently displays the healthcare.gov telephone number, is frequently updated to clean outdated information, and the cleaning is not done by political staff. Following media coverage, including in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the information was restored this week.

There remains the possibility that the Saturday deadline could be extended a few days in some Georgia counties, perhaps to Dec. 22, as a result of Hurricane Michael. But after several days of questions from the AJC, the federal government still could not answer by close of business Friday whether the extension would go into effect.

Documents provided by the agency that administers the program, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, appeared to show that dozens of Middle and South Georgia counties would be eligible for the extension. A local spokeswoman said she expected she might hear next week.

Georgia workers who assist people trying to enroll were also trying to learn about the extension. Some said they were busting at the seams with last-minute clients and were stymied in trying to plan for next week.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.

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