Published October 12. 2013 4:30PM Updated October 13. 2013 12:15AM
New London — Waterford resident Marlene Emma brought her mother to the Community Health Center of New London Saturday for a checkup and was told she should learn more about "Obamacare" while she was there.
She stepped into the center's conference room, where about 15 residents were learning about or signing up for coverage under the new Connecticut health insurance exchange. She said wanted to know what health insurance plan she would qualify for based on her net weekly salary of $240.
Community Health Center Inc. held a health insurance exchange enrollment fair on Saturday morning at the New London site. The nonprofit will be offering more group sign-up sessions and individual sessions through March 31.
The goal is to get as many people signed up by Dec. 15 so they can have health insurance by Jan. 1, which is the earliest someone can be insured under the federal Affordable Care Act. If someone without health insurance doesn't sign up by March 31, he or she will be charged a penalty of 1 percent of his or her annual income or $95, whichever is greater for the first year. The penalty increases the following year.
Access Health CT, the quasi-public state agency assigned with setting up the marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act, offers plans at the bronze, silver and gold levels by three providers: Anthem, ConnectiCare and HealthyCT.
The bronze level is considered the cheapest because it has the lowest monthly premium. But the bronze plan also has the highest annual deductible. A person who is healthy and doesn't plan on going to the hospital might choose the bronze plan, said Stefan Kostolitz, outreach and eligibility associate for the Community Health Center.
The gold plan has the highest monthly premium but a low deductible, and the silver plan lies in the middle.
The silver and gold plans have been the most popular, said Marie Yardis, manager of access to care for Community Health Center.
Emma, 52, who had brought her mother to the center Saturday for a checkup, said she wanted to only research the plan because her new job might provide her with health insurance. Based on the data she entered into www.AccessHealthCT.com, her monthly premium would be $72 to $120 depending, on which provider she chose. Emma earns $240 a week after taxes as a housekeeper for a nursing home in Waterford.
"I learned about the plan, and I think I like it, but I have to go and check my job and make the decision," Emma said. "But I think I am going for this one, yes."
Patricia Madry, 63, of New London, who earns $38,000 annually as the manager of the New London Community Meal Center, was also at the enrollment fair Saturday. Based on the website's calculations, she said her health insurance premium would be $300 a month under the gold plan instead of $589 a month under the Charter Oak Health Plan offered to low-income adults in Connecticut. The Charter Oak Health Plan will end on Dec. 31.
"I am happy about that, definitely, it's almost half," she said.
Dr. Margaret Flinter, senior vice president at Community Health Center, said she appreciated the "tremendous diversity" she saw at the enrollment fair.
"This is the picture of America, every race, color, creed, nationality, different ages, people just trying to do the right thing and get health insurance coverage for their families," Flinter said.
She said the community center frequently sees people who are working multiple jobs but don't have access to health insurance. From a clinical viewpoint, "the health insurance exchange just brings a level of sanity to the whole thing," she said.