Health centers appeal to uninsured

Seven of Dorchester's health centers are banding together this week in a bid to get residents signed up for health insurance before the Dec. 31 deadline. From Codman Square to Upham's Corner, Dorchester residents will be able to enroll in state health plans on-site Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Residents who don't have health insurance after the end of the month will get hit with a $219 fine when they file their tax return in the spring. That fine will go up substantially in ensuing months.

The seven health centers include: Bowdoin Street Health Center, Codman Square Health Center, Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, Geiger Gibson Community Health Center, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, Neponset Health Center, and Upham's Corner Health Center.

People hoping to enroll in Commonwealth Care, the subsidized insurance program for individuals who aren't offered insurance through their employers and earn less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, should bring a driver's license, a passport or birth certificate and two recent pay stubs.

Others, above the federal poverty level, can enroll in Commonwealth Choice, offering a wide variety of premiums, with costs ranging between $175 to $288 a month, and deductibles between zero and $2,000, according to the State House News Service.

State officials say about 200,000 people have enrolled over the last year. But how many don't have insurance is unclear.

The scramble to get people insured arises from the health care reform law signed last year.

Politicians at both the state and local level are stressing the importance of signing up.

"If they don't want a penalty on the tax return, I think it behooves them in that sense," said Sam Yoon, a Boston city councillor-at-large.

"As is the case with insurance itself, the more people who join, the better protected everybody is. By signing up, it's almost a form of community service."

A handful of staffers from Yoon's office will be available for translation services at the Dorchester House and the Neponset Health Center, two of the more heavily Vietnamese-populated areas.

The Codman Square Health Center will have about 20 staffers available, according to the health center's CEO, Bill Walczak.

"The goal is to make sure everybody in Dorchester has the opportunity to sign up," he said, noting that fines could rise as high as $1,500 in the coming fiscal year if individuals fail to enroll.

Officials at Caritas Carney Hospital applauded the health centers' efforts. The hospital has also been holding enrollment events throughout the fall, with financial counselors, helping individuals on a one-on-one basis, according to Carney spokeswoman Margaret Carr.

Residents who don't get a chance to enroll Saturday can enroll during each of the seven health center's respective business hours.

In a statement, Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the state's Connector Authority, the clearinghouse for insurance products, said,

"We want people insured, not penalized."

The Dorchester enrollment events will be the twelfth time in the last month the Connector Authority has co-sponsored the events across the state. Other enrollment events have been held in Allston, Chicopee and Worcester.

Participating health centers

Bowdoin Street Health Center, 230 Bowdoin St., 617-754-0100

Codman Square Health Center, 637 Washington St., 617-825-9660

Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, 1353 Dorchester Ave., 617-288-3230

Geiger Gibson Community Health Center, 250 Mount Vernon St., 617-288-1140

Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, 632 Blue Hill Ave., 617-825-3400

Neponset Health Center, 398 Neponset Ave., 617-282-3200

Upham's Corner Health Center, 415 Columbia Rd., 617-287-8000

Enrollment information and material is available online at the Connector's website, MAhealthconnector.org, and can be obtained by calling the Connector's call center on weekdays at 1-877-MA ENROLL.