With the clock ticking down toward two December deadlines, about 270 Rogue Valley residents hoping to sign up for health insurance through Cover Oregon converged on the Ramada Medford Hotel & Conference Center Wednesday afternoon.
Cover Oregon's online portal has yet to fully open, forcing most applicants to file paper forms to meet a Dec. 15 deadline for enrolling in an insurance plan. The agency announced another deadline earlier in the day, saying people need to submit applications with Cover Oregon — or have an application postmarked — by Dec. 4, to give the agency time to verify whether they will qualify for tax credits or the Oregon Health Plan.
Some 270 people preregistered online for the sign-up fair at the Ramada, which was part of a Cover Oregon caravan that began a weeklong journey through the state to help people get registered. By 2 p.m. another 33 people, who found out about the event too late to register, mingled in.
Rand and Mary Dickson of Medford were among the latter group, but left with the assurance that they will receive a packet explaining their insurance options within the next two weeks.
"We've been trying on and off for three weeks to sign up on the website," Mary Dickson said. "It (has been) absolutely frustrating."
It's been six years since she last had health insurance.
"I lost my job," Dickson said. "We tried to get Oregon Health Plan and weren't able."
With a bank of assistants and volunteers resembling those at a telethon, Cover Oregon was geared up to end the frustration.
The Dicksons got an application filled out in a matter of minutes. Rand Dickson, who is on disability, even got to talk about alternatives to Medicare.
"We've been struggling to figure out how to get insurance for her without paying a phenomenal amount. There was some other deal recently, and we missed it. We'll go through the thing, select a company and try to get it in time (for coverage) by Jan. 1. I guess we will know how we stand when we get a response."
Mary Dickson admitted she was relieved to get the paperwork going.
"I thought it was government mandated," she said. "Like you get this app in or we're going to fine you."
Others were on an exploratory mission, still kicking the Cover Oregon tires, long after the agency had hoped to be rolling along at freeway speeds.
Cecile Shohet, an Ashland botanist, has been with ODS Health Plan, now known as Moda Health.
"I actually thought there would be better things out there," she said. "I expected the price would be a little cheaper and that I would get more for it."
The more, Shohet said, was prescription drug benefits. But the trade-off was a higher copay for preventive visits.
She had a handout from Moda comparing her current medical coverage with a similar plan in the new program.
"They didn't have the prices on there, but I found out what my price is going to be here," Shohet said. "My insurance (premium) is going to go from $180 to $195 a month."
It fits her need, she said, providing catastrophic coverage with a few add-ons.
"I get some preventive care for a good price," Shohet said. "I have a $5,000 deductible and $7,000 maximum over the course of a year."
She's thankful that preventive care is built into newer policies.
"In the past couple of years, I've seen a lot more visits at an affordable price, and that makes sense," Shohet said. "Because if you have to pay 100 percent of doctor's visit, you're not going to go. You want to go to a chiropractor and take care of something before it becomes a torn ligament or tendon."
At first blush, she suspects she'll stand pat with Moda.
"It looks to me like what I have is what I will stay with," Shohet said. "I'll study up more on my own. I want to know my options, and then I will make the best decision. But it looks to me after today like I'm right on track."
Elizabeth Cronen, a spokeswoman for Cover Oregon, said applicants won't be able to enroll until their financial data are verified. That's why people are being asked to file their applications by Dec. 4, so there will be time to enroll by Dec. 15.
"They couldn't enroll today, but they can be super, super ready to enroll."