By El Mansour Bettahar
Nobody plans to get sick or injured, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Ten years ago, I got into an accident at my construction job. I was in pain and alone, having left my family in Algeria during my recent move to the United States. I wanted to get treatment but didn’t have health insurance, so I stayed home, taking over-the-counter pain medication, and hoping the problem would resolve itself. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. When it got worse, I finally dragged myself to the hospital, unsure if they would even treat me without insurance. Luckily, I got the care I needed and started recovering.
Then, the bills started arriving. My visit to the hospital cost me thousands of dollars because I didn’t have health insurance. After receiving my shockingly high bills, I did two things. First, I set up a payment plan with the hospital. Second, I decided it was time to get health insurance. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, I had a lot of questions, and I didn’t know where to turn for answers. Thankfully though, I saw advertisements in my Bay Ridge neighborhood for free enrollment assistance to get help signing up for insurance. The assistance is available to all New Yorkers, in many languages and regardless of immigration status. It took me a while, but I connected to an enrollment counselor and ended up with the health insurance I needed. I’m writing this piece now because my experience could have been a lot easier, if I had only known about available resources from the beginning.
There’s so much I didn’t know before my accident, and so much I’ve learned since, about health insurance because of my exposure to the full enrollment process. My experience emboldened me to help others get connected to health insurance. After getting insurance, I started working as an enroller with a provider and helped other people in my community sign up for Medicare. After doing that for a few years, I started working for New York City’s GetCoveredNYC citywide initiative, where our program conducts proactive outreach and offers free case management support to help make health care access and the insurance enrollment process easier for all New Yorkers. This program is exactly the type of service that would have helped me get insurance when I needed it. Now, I want to share this knowledge because of one simple fact: all New Yorkers deserve quality and affordable health coverage.
It’s not too late to get health insurance for this new year! Enrollment through NY State of Health will remain open for the duration of the federal Public Health Emergency. That means that there’s still time to enroll in health insurance through NY State of Health – the State’s official health plan Marketplace.
If you enroll by the 15th of the month, you’ll be covered by the first of next month. But it’s best to act fast; I waited to get covered and have a big bill to prove it. There are affordable plans available in NYC and people to help you find an option that fits your budget and needs.
Years after that fateful work accident, I now spend every day of my job answering New Yorkers’ questions about health coverage and helping them enroll by connecting them to enrollment counselors. I know firsthand how complex the system is, how many barriers there are to getting enrolled, and how difficult it can be to use your health plan to find the quality, affordable care that works for you.
Luckily, my colleagues and I are here to fill in the gaps to help you figure out what’s covered by your plan, define difficult terms, and more. And, most importantly, we can walk you through the entire health insurance enrollment process. For free! I understand what it’s like to navigate an unfamiliar, complicated system. Why not ask for help? You can direct your questions to me and our team by texting CoveredNYC (SeguroNYC en Español) to 877877.
You may be thinking, “That all sounds great, El Mansour, but I just can’t afford it.” I hear you, it’s no secret that costs can be a major barrier for a lot of people to get health insurance. But, recent laws have created crucial tax breaks that provide discounts. That means that health insurance is getting more affordable, and it’s possible to find a plan that fits both your needs and budget. And believe me when I say, it’s a lot cheaper than an emergency room bill.
Don’t delay: if you enroll by January 15th, you’ll be covered on February 1st, just in time for a healthy start to 2023.
I talk to people about health insurance every single day. Most of the people I talk to know that health insurance is important, but for far too many, it feels out of reach. New Yorkers deserve better and we’re here to help.