By Bay City News Service
With the deadline to sign up for health insurance through Medi-Cal or Covered California approaching rapidly, Bay Area residents are being offered some face-to-face assistance in getting enrolled.
The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, a health care workers union with 150,000 members, is offering five free health care enrollment fairs in the Bay Area this week, starting with events in San Francisco and Hayward this afternoon.
The fairs offer information and face-to-face help in signing up for free or low-cost health insurance, according to union spokesman Sean Wherley. Those who currently lack insurance are required to either sign up for Medi-Cal, for those who are eligible, or purchase insurance through the state's health care exchange, Covered California.
Wherley said the union has been holding the fairs since October, but attendance is expected to go up as the March 31 deadline for enrollment approaches.
"We're seeing numbers go up with each passing week, and we think there will be quite a spike before the deadline," Wherley said.
Those who fail to enroll by the deadline and who do not already have health insurance will be charged a fine of $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher, Wherley said. Only those who make too little to pay income taxes will escape the fine.
In addition, those who miss the deadline will not be able to enroll until the next open enrollment period starts on Nov. 15.
Covered California officials announced on Monday that more than 1 million people statewide had signed up for health care coverage through the state exchange.
"It speaks to the immense need for the Affordable Care Act and the millions of people who have been waiting for affordable coverage," said Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee in a statement issued Monday.
Covered California officials urged consumers to sign up quickly, saying that a rush of last-minute applications could make the online enrollment process slow.
Those looking for more information and access to online enrollment can go to www.CoveredCA.com.
Today's SEIU health care enrollment fairs will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. at 1338 Mission St. in San Francisco, and from 4 to 8 p.m. at 27689 Tyrrell Ave. in Hayward.
Additional events are planned on Wednesday in Napa and on Saturday in San Francisco and Concord.
For more information on the health care fairs, go to www.seiu-uhw.org/fairs.