The government shutdown had absolutely no effect on President Obama's Affordable Care Act open enrollment starting, but something else did cause a headache for many Tuesday.
Many complained that when they went to the website healthcare.gov and tried to sign up for ACA or Obamacare, they got an error message. Others said they weren't able to answer the security question.
The problems are causing widespread delays across the country, including in the Kansas City metro.
Eliga Frazer, a resident of Kansas City, MO, took time out Tuesday to stop in at Swope Health Services, located off Blue Parkway, to enroll for Obamacare. But he quickly learned the government website to sign-up for affordable insurance has been experiencing problems on its first day of operations.
"That's going to delay a lot of people I think with the computers being down, and a lot of people don't have home computers like myself, so we have to do it in person," Frazer said.
"Healthcare.gov has frozen up, so people have not been able to create their accounts. But we figured that would happen, so we have given people other options," said Karimah Baptiste, a certified application counselor.
Baptiste said at least 60 people came to their Swope Health Services location hoping to sign up electronically, but none of them were able to accomplish that Tuesday. She said they were given paper applications and some signed up for an appointment to meet with her another time.
She said it's important for everyone to be patient and understand that open enrollment runs for several months.
"We are not upset at all, we roll with the punches and it's going to be successful. Despite what people think, it will be successful. It's just a glitch and it happens with any new program," Baptiste said.
Frazer said he's simply going to mail his application in because he can't afford to pass up the opportunity.
"I am getting up in age and, if I get sick, I am going to need some kind of coverage. And I don't have any right now. So I feel this will be a good deal for me as soon as I fill this out and mail it back in," he said.
Despite the computer glitches today that prevented many from signing up, several groups want to make sure a language barrier doesn't become what keeps families from applying.
Arnoldo Martinez wonders who his family-owned Mexican restaurant, El Camino Real in Kansas City, KS, will be able to secure insurance for nearly two dozen employees. The government estimates there are nearly 10 million uninsured Latinos who qualify for Obamacare.
"I haven't paid attention to it because I am very busy working here. But I would like to know more about it in the future, so that way we can get insurance for employees here," Martinez said.
"It's important for us to understand that the largest minority population that are uninsured and eligible are the Latino population, and for El Centro that's true to our mission and our hearts," said Irene Caudillo, the chief program officer for El Centro.
Caudillo said El Centro is holding special training classes for their promatoras or health promoter volunteers. They will be able to reach out to Latino families, especially those who only speak Spanish, about why ACA is important.
Cielo Fernandez, who is one of four certified application counselors with the organization, said El Centro will have computers set-up so families can come in and sign-up on a Spanish version of healthcare.gov. They said the key is for the volunteers to convince families to give it a chance.
"They are going to know the facts and they will be able to at least make sure they share the information with the community to avoid the myths, to avoid the misinformation that prevents many times for the community to access what they deserve to have," Fernandez said.
She said the biggest question Latinos want to know is about citizenship and if those who are in the U.S. illegally qualify for Obamacare. She said those with work visas and other proper documentation are being included.
Tuesday was just day one of open enrollment. People have until Dec. 15 to sign up for a plan if they want it to start on Jan. 1.
For those who need more time, they can continue to enroll through March 2014.
People can call El Centro to set-up an appointment for Spanish-speaking help with Obamacare at 913-677-0100. There is also a government-run Obamacare phone number to help families who don't speak English sign up over the phone. It is 1-800-318-2596. The 1-800 number is not just for help for Spanish speakers, it can connect callers to Obamacare workers who speak one of 150 different languages.
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