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With Three Weeks Left, Consumers Fear They May End Up Without Health Coverage On New Year’s Day

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Fox's husband goes to a pain clinic and uses medication for his spinal stenosis. She fears if they are not enrolled in new insurance when their current policy lapses at the end of the year, they will have to pay out-of-pocket.  "It would be extremely expensive," she says. "And nobody knows what accident they can be in tomorrow. I don't think it's wise to be without insurance for one day, frankly."

Early mix-ups occurred in the launch of the last major federal health expansion, the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. People were supposed to sign up by Dec. 31, 2005, to start using the benefit when coverage began on Jan. 1, 2006. But that turned out to not leave enough time for Medicare to process all the enrollments.  "There were all these stories about people showing up to pharmacies and the pharmacies not having the seniors in the systems," said Sabrina Corlette, who directs the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University. "And the seniors walked away empty handed because Medicare hadn’t transferred the information."

Momi's pain is so intense from her disease, formally known as adiposis dolorosa, that any delay would be agonizing. "I have lipomas, fatty tumors that grow throughout my body," she says. "They’re attacking through my spine, my internal organs. My nervous system is actually growing through them. You can see them."

She drives monthly to Las Vegas, more than 100 miles north of Fort Mohave, to see her doctor. He wants to install a pain pump for a new medicine from sea snail venom, but it's so expensive she has had to delay the surgery. "My doctor is helping me so much I can’t even begin to tell you," she says, crying. "I pay him what I can pay him."

No one knows how many people might still be clamoring for coverage at the cusp of Christmas. When Massachusetts launched its health insurance exchanges, the big spike in enrollment did not occur when the program began in 2007; it occurred when the financial penalty for not signing up kicked in that December, according to a study by Harvard professor Amitabh Chandra and other researchers.

Wed, Nov 27 2013

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