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People still scrambling to buy government-mandated health insurance after the February 15 deadline were surprised to find zero-hour assistance February 18 at the weekly Ocean Beach Farmers’ Market yesterday.

Tucked between a live reggae band and a stand offering coconut beverage samples, Laurel Small, a Covered California–certified insurance agent based in Mission Valley, said she processed around ten applications for OBceans without insurance.

Small kept her setup to a minimum, retrieving online quotes for monthly premiums via cell phone and obtaining contact information by hand on a spiral binder. A stack of business cards completed the display.

Foot traffic was brisk but lines were never long as customers approached, some with a slice of pizza in one hand and bag of produce in the other. They were grateful, Small said, to get what they needed without being placed on hold or navigating a clunky website.

“People come up and say, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re here.’ It never ceases to amaze me how many people have questions and need help,” Small said.

It’s still possible to buy insurance in California without risking a penalty, but there’s a catch. Only consumers who tried to apply before February 15 qualify for the February 22 extension.

Furthermore, doing it online yourself is no longer an option; you have to track down someone certified to do it for you. The state website, coveredca.com, has a "Find Local Help" button with links to storefronts, enrollment counselors, insurance agents, and county eligibility workers legally permitted to get you across the finish line. Or you can try your luck calling the state’s service center directly.

But if you click on “Find an Event Near You,” Small is the only one in the entire city willing to leave the office, set up a stand, and offer face-to-face time this late in the game. With thousands of people still trying to sign up, she finds that curious.

“I don’t know why there aren’t more nonprofits and agents doing this. Most people have really tried but they still need help. I hear that constantly,” she said.

Farmers’ markets are fertile ground for prospective customers — they have “good demographics,” Small said, meaning they’re likely to qualify for subsidies. She’s been a fixture at the O.B. Farmers’ Market since mid-October, she said.

Customers who want information in Small’s out-in-the-open format can look for her at the Imperial Beach Farmers’ Market on February 20 and the City Heights market on February 21. She can be reached at 619-677-1859.

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AlexClarke Feb. 20, 2015 @ 7:50 a.m.

People want health care and conservatives don't want the masses to have it. Besides, the ACA is not about affordable healthcare it is about affordable health insurance. No matter what plan you choose it still only covers so much. There are copays and out of pocket expenses. Many who do sigh up may be able to afford the insurance but can't afford to use it. Insurance is about people paying into the system and not using it. It is a numbers game. Health insurance like pensions and Social Security rely on a certain percentage of people not using it. There is always the emergency rooms.


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