The 2014 enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act closes tonight. For some people the new health law is a godsend. Others barely noticed its existence.

Donna Zeuli and her husband lost their insurance when he retired two years ago. Private insurers denied them both because of pre-existing conditions and the COBRA plan offered through his union was too expensive. So they decided to take their chances and wait for Obamacare to take effect.

Then, last fall, Zeuli had a mini stroke at her home in Magalia, Calif., in the foothills of Chico, and was rushed to the ER.

“You can’t believe the angst I had about not having insurance,” says Zeuli, 55. “The only thing I could think about was how much is this going to cost me. Do the minimum. But make sure I’m not gonna die.”

She spent one night in the hospital and came out with an $11,000 bill. She says that’s why she was one of the first in line when the insurance marketplace opened in California.

“As soon as I was able to sign up,” she says. “As of January first, we had insurance.”

Bruce Bergren, 60, doesn’t share the enthusiasm. He’s a carpenter in Hermosa Beach and he decided to watch the Obamacare deadline come and go.

“The problem is right now, business hasn’t been that good so it’s kind of an expense I can’t really afford,” he says.

He heard warnings about a tax penalty and reports about financial assistance from the government to make monthly premiums more affordable. But when it came down to it, Bergren had other budget priorities.

“I have some debt to get rid of and, rent’s high so that’s one of my biggest expenses,” he says. “And running a business, ya know, replacing tools and stuff, that’s not cheap.”

He says he’s waiting for lawmakers to pass free, universal health care. Then he’ll be interested.

For people who want to complete an application for a health plan, check for instructions. But act fast. The deadline is at 11:59 p.m. tonight.


April Dembosky

April Dembosky covers health care news and trends across California for KQED's statewide program The California Report. She has reported extensively on the economics of health care, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in California, and aging and end-of-life issues. Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and has been recognized with awards from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, the Society for Professional Journalists, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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