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For help signing up for health care under the Affordable Care Act during the special enrollment period or during the upcoming open enrollment, call 855-339-3007.

The agency that is helping people in Southern Maryland sign up for the state health insurance marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act is preparing for the next open enrollment period to begin late in the fall.

CONNECT Southern MD, a program of Calvert Healthcare Solutions, is a nonprofit organization that serves the three Southern Maryland counties. The first enrollment period, which ended March 31, came with challenges to the organization’s newly increased staff of 18. The state’s health insurance enrollment website difficulties led to the staff filing the paperwork by hand.

“It’s no secret that there were major difficulties with the enrollment part of the website,” said Michael Shaw, executive director. “It frustrated the consumers.”

But many were able to sign up for health care for the first time, Shaw said. In addition to helping people actually sign up for a plan, the program seeks to teach health care literacy. Staff members explain the different terminologies and how to choose a doctor.

Some people didn’t know there are co-payment fees outside of the monthly premium, said Elizabeth Conty, certified navigator for Calvert Healthcare Solutions.

During the open enrollment period, 2,516 people signed up for insurance with the help of Calvert Healthcare Solutions. Of those, 1,285 were from Charles County, 673 were from Calvert County and 558 from St. Mary’s County, Conty said.

Shaw said during the first open enrollment period, the staff learned it is better for people to schedule their appointments, although walk-ins are allowed.

Additionally, in the next open enrollment period, the organization will take with it the knowledge that it’s not always possible to get in touch with someone to follow up after an appointment, he said, and must get all of the information in the first encounter just in case the client can’t be contacted again.

Until the next open enrollment period for what is known as Obamacare, which is scheduled to run Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, some residents may be eligible to enroll in a plan through Maryland Health Connection if they have experienced a qualifying life event.

These kinds of events include a marriage or divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, COBRA coverage expiring, change in immigration status, change in household income, no longer being covered by a parent’s plan because a person has turned 26, loss of health coverage due to job loss or reduction of hours, moving to Maryland from another state and the legal separation or divorce from or the death of the policy holder, according to a news release.

Generally, after experiencing one of these life events, there is a 60-day special enrollment period to sign up for or change coverage, the release states.

sfleischman@somdnews.com