That's the word Charles "Chip" Joffe-Halpern, executive director of ECU-Health Care, and other health-care officials are trying to get out, as the deadline for insurance enrollment nears.
"We have a lot of concern that there are individuals out there who believe that if they don't have health insurance by the deadline, they'll just pay a $219 penalty and be set for another year," Joffe-Halpern said Monday. "The fact is, 2008 will be much more expensive for them until they enroll."
According to the state law that went into effect July 1, anyone who can afford health insurance but doesn't have it will be required to pay up to half the cost of the cheapest plan available to them until they enroll.
"If the lowest health-care insurance available to you is $150 a month, then you'll pay $75 every month you're uncovered," Halpern said.
For most of the uninsured, it's already too late to sign up for coverage that will kick in before the Dec. 31 deadline many companies open enrollment on Jan. 1 but Halpern said people shouldn't be discouraged.
"We fear that people aren't signing up with us because we'll report them," he said. "It's not about that. People should come in and sign up now so they can avoid the fees after the start of the new year."
He said individuals and families who do not have access to affordable health insurance through an em- ployer have several state-offered options. Commonwealth Care and MassHealth are available to those individuals without employer insurance who make under 300 percent of the federal poverty level $30,630 for an individual, $61,950 for a family of four.
Anyone falling into this category is considered to have access to affordable health insurance and thus must enroll or pay a penalty, according to the state Web site. Commonwealth Care, which offers subsidized insurance, has premiums ranging from zero to $109 a month.
Those making more than 300 percent of the poverty level but unable to access health insurance through work can enroll with Commonwealth Choice, which offers a variety of health insurance options. For example, a 29-year-old woman working in the retail clothing industry would have a choice of 13 health plans, with premiums ranging from $183.92 a month for a low-end plan without prescription drug benefits to $440 a month for a plan with low co-payments, no deductibles and prescription coverage.
"My concern is that people are either delaying it or think it's too late to join the program," Halpern said.
He predicted the problem will grow.
"This is just the beginning," he said. "This year, we've referred over 2,200 individuals to either Commonwealth Care or Mass Health in Northern Berkshire alone. We know there are still hundreds, if not thousands, eligible but not enrolled."
A few weeks ago, he said, a woman who uses alternative holistic health methods had stopped by his office because she was unaware of the mandate.
"She really wanted help because she didn't understand why she should be forced to pay for health insurance when she relied on non-Western medicine," Halpern said. "We had an honest discussion, and I asked her what she would do if she was diagnosed with cancer, heart disease or was in an accident that put her in the hospital. She enrolled in Commonwealth Care, and her payment is only $70 a month."
Karen Bombeck, director of programs for ECU-Health Care, said that the state health connector program also provides coverage for those waiting to enroll in company insurance plans.
"If you are in a waiting period at work waiting to qualify for new coverage or for the open enrollment period Commonwealth Care will cover you while you wait if you meet the income guidelines," Bombeck said.
Halpern compared the health insurance mandate to other requirements made by the state that people already follow.
"What people don't realize is that the health insurance mandate is just like all those mandates they typically comply with on a daily basis," he said. "We already comply with auto insurance, income tax, child immunizations and minimum wage laws. These are all mandates that the majority of us already overwhelmingly accept."
For more information, go to www.mahealthconnector.org or schedule an appointment with ECU-Health Care at 413-663-8711.