CTNJ file photo
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp (CTNJ file photo)

Last week, the city of New Haven used its Everbridge Emergency Notification System to remind residents that the deadline to sign up for Obamacare was fast approaching.

“This is an important message from the city of New Haven. Please listen carefully,” a male voice said in a recording of the call provided to CTNewsJunkie.com.

The next voice in the recording is Mayor Toni Harp, a former state lawmaker who once chaired the Medicaid Managed Care Council and worked for two decades as a healthcare administrator.

“Hi, this is Mayor Toni Harp and I want to provide you with some important information about signing up for health insurance. There are free health insurance enrollment events every week in the city of New Haven where you will be able to meet one-on-one with trained and certified individuals who can answer questions and enroll you and your family in health care coverage,” Harp said in the recording. “The Access Health CT open enrollment period officially closes on March 31st.  After March 31st you will be eligible to apply for health insurance through Access Health CT only if you have changes in your personal circumstances, or if you qualify for HUSKY.”

HUSKY is the name for the state’s Medicaid program for low-income families and children.

No one has criticized Harp’s decision to use the reverse-dial phone system to warn of the end of the enrollment period.

Laurence Grotheer, Harp’s spokesman, said Sunday that the Everbridge phone system is the same one used to give residents information about parking bans and plowing schedules following winter storms.

“It’s consistent with the city’s policy to use the telephone tree,” he said.

As far as the message is concerned, “the mayor believes it’s in the best interest of residents to avail themselves of healthcare coverage that’s now available.”

In the recorded message, Harp went on to give the city of New Haven website address and the phone number for New Haven’s Public Health Department. The New Haven Public Health Department is an Access Health CT navigator and received funding to guide people through the process of signing up for Obamacare. Access Health CT, the quasi-public agency that manages Connecticut’s insurance exchange, also opened up a storefront in New Haven where people can go to get help with the enrollment process.

Access Health CT planned to spend $15 million on a marketing and advertising campaign to make sure everyone who qualifies enrolls in the program before the March 31 deadline.

What Harp doesn’t mention in her call is the tax penalty imposed on those who don’t have health insurance coverage either through the exchange or outside the exchange before March 31.

In a conference call with reporters Friday, Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan stressed that the penalty will be 1 percent of an individual’s adjust gross income or $95 at the minimum.

Those who don’t get coverage on March 31st can still apply through the exchange to get an exemption. There’s exemptions for Native Americans, religious exemptions, and other hardship provisions under the Affordable Care Act. Those who would have to pay 8.5 percent of their monthly income on health insurance, even with the subsidy, are excused from having to purchase it.

“They are the only way other than getting coverage to avoid a tax penalty,” Chad Booker, a policy analyst with Access Health CT, said.

Those who get insurance before March 31 either inside or outside of the exchange will avoid tax penalties, even if they didn’t have coverage for the first part of 2014.

The percent of uninsured residents in New Haven was about 14 percent in 2010, which is higher than the statewide average of about 8 or 9 percent. However, it’s unclear how many of those uninsured received coverage through the exchange since that’s not one of the questions on the application.

As of March 9, Access Health CT had exceeded its enrollment expectations and had signed up more than 150,000 individuals to plans in the exchange and Medicaid since Oct. 1 of last year.