Federal and local officials met in Akron on Monday morning to politely ask that people obey the Affordable Care Act and sign up by March 31.
After that, the government is prepared to make your tax season a year from now a little more painful.
“We are here because there are seven days for the 1.3 million Ohioans to sign up, to shop, to study, to see what’s best for them and their families and to have the chance to buy affordable insurance,” said Kathleen Falk, Region V director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
She was joined by Summit County Executive Russ Pry, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Canton Mayor William J. Healy and local health officials at Summa Center at New Seasons, 1493 S. Hawkins Ave.
Plusquellic said he is sympathetic for those who are procrastinating but hopes they will sign up in the last days it is possible. He said the last folks might be like him and need to be pressured to get something done.
“I need a deadline and I usually do it one minute before midnight,” he said.
Healy pointed out that most uninsured people go to the emergency room when they are sick or injured, an expensive way to be treated.
And if they can’t pay, the costs are absorbed by everyone.
“Somebody’s paying that bill and that’s everybody else,” he said.
Falk said Ohioans are eligible for 46 different insurance policies, but only until Monday. After that they will be locked out of the system and forced to pay a fine on their tax bills next year.
Single adults with a household income of less than $19,650 would pay a $95 flat rate. (If income is below $10,150 or less, there is no penalty.) Those making more would pay 1 percent of their income above the tax-filing threshold of $10,150 for an individual.
Some families would also face a $47.50 charge per child with a maximum of $285 per family.
The following year the penalty would be 2 percent or $325 per person, whichever is higher, and 2.5 percent or $695 per person the year after that.
Many low-income families who do sign up will be eligible for government subsidies.
Dr. Joseph D. Varley, a Summa psychiatrist, emphasized the need for everyone to have health insurance, especially to cover mental health issues.
“It is vitally important and so overdue,” he said. “I don’t think we can get the word out far enough or wide enough for people to take the opportunity to get access.”
The websites selling the insurance have failed in the past, but Falk was confident they can withstand the expected rush before Monday’s deadline.
If people are on the site but fail for technical reasons in the last days, she said they would be allowed to sign up after the deadline.
For more information or to sign up, go to https://www.healthcare.gov/ or call 800-318-2596.
Also, the Summit County Health Department offers help at 330-926-5660.
For information on Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, go to http://benefits.ohio.gov/.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.