State and federal officials push for health insurance enrollment as ACA deadline nears

New Jersey and federal officials called on uninsured residents to enroll in a health care plan before the end of an Affordable Care Act open enrollment period.

A dozen Democratic lawmakers and federal Health and Human Services regional director Jackie Cornell-Bechelli said Thursday at the Statehouse that residents have until Feb. 15 to sign up with or through Medicaid.

The news conference was equal parts public service announcement and defense of the law, which Republicans denounce.

Lawmakers emphasized that too many people in their districts were unaware of the possibility to sign up. State Sen. Ronald Rice, for instance, said he has reached out to clergy members in his northern New Jersey district to encourage them to tell congregants about open enrollment.

Others, like Assemblyman Troy Singleton, seemed to address the law's critics, noting that while some lawmakers argue whether citizens have a right to health care, "it is the law of the land."

Officials say there will be 18 enrollment events across the state between now and the deadline.

Under the Affordable Care Act, failure to get coverage would result in a fine of $325 or 2 percent of yearly income, whichever is higher.

Since November, 216,425 residents have enrolled in new plans, but about half a million people in the state are still uninsured.

The enrollment deadline comes as Gov. Chris Christie nears a decision on a 2016 presidential campaign. Christie chose to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid in New Jersey in 2013, a move at odds with other Republican governors who may also run for the White House.