Monday is the deadline to sign up for private health insurance in the new online markets created by President Barack Obama's health care law.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV/AP) -
In a flood of last-minute sign-ups, hundreds of thousands of Americans rushed to apply for health insurance Monday, as the deadline day for President Barack Obama's overhaul brought long waits and a new spate of website ills.
Supporters of the healthcare law fanned out across the country in a final dash to sign up uninsured Americans. The HealthCare.gov website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 1.2 million through noon Monday.
At times, more than 125,000 people were simultaneously using the system, straining it beyond its previously estimated capacity. People not signed up for health insurance by the deadline, either through their jobs or on their own, were subject to being fined by the IRS, and that threat was helping drive the final dash.
The administration announced last week that people still in line by midnight would get extra time to enroll.
In Kansas City, ringing phones, buzzing enrollment counselors and the furious sound of fingers tapping on keyboards added to the tension at Swope Health Services where last-minute enrollees rushed to sign up on Healthcare.gov.
"I want to be legal," said Rocco Scarcello, of Raytown.
He was just one of many who flooded into Swope Health Services for the organization's free enrollment counseling sessions before the 11 p.m. CT deadline.
"It's been an experience. I mean I should've did it before. It's just my own fault," Scarcello said.
But the efforts were slowed thanks to website glitches throughout the day.
Swope Health Services enrollment director Karimah Baptiste thinks they plagued 20 percent of her clients Monday.
"When I logged on or tried to log on, there were a few glitches. When we create accounts for clients and try to log back in, it's not recognizing their passwords and username," Baptiste said.
Counselors resorted to taking screenshots for glitched out accounts, hoping it would be proof enough that the client attempted to enroll before the Monday deadline.
"It's a little frustrating but we're problem solvers," Baptiste said.
The federally-funded health center hosted an enrollment fair last weekend where more than 200 clients successfully signed up. Baptiste said there were no website issues that day.
The website stumbled early in the day Monday - out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. Another hiccup in the early afternoon temporarily kept new applicants from signing up, and then things slowed further as the afternoon wore on. Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers say it still runs slowly.
The White House and other supporters of the law were hoping for an enrollment surge that would push sign-ups in the new health insurance markets to around 6.5 million people. That's halfway between a revised goal of 6 million and the original target of 7 million. The first goal was scaled back after the federal website's disastrous launch last fall, which kept it offline during most of October.
The insurance markets - or exchanges - offer subsidized private health insurance to people who don't have access to coverage through their jobs. The federal government is taking the lead in 36 states, while 14 other states plus Washington, DC, are running their own enrollment websites.
Though March 31 was the last day officially to sign up, millions of people are potentially eligible for extensions granted by the administration.
Those include people who had begun enrolling by the deadline but didn't finish, perhaps because of errors, missing information or website glitches. The government says it will accept paper applications until April 7 and take as much time as necessary to handle unfinished cases on HealthCare.gov. Rules may vary in states running their own insurance marketplaces.
The administration is also offering special extensions to make up for all sorts of problems that might have kept people from getting enrolled on time: natural disasters, domestic abuse, website malfunctions, errors by insurance companies and mistakes by application counselors.
To seek a special enrollment period, contact the federal call center at 1-855-889-4325, or the state marketplace and explain what happened. It's on the honor system. If the extension is approved, that brings another 60 days to enroll.
Those who still don't get health insurance run the risk that the Internal Revenue Service will fine them next year for remaining uninsured. It remains to be seen how aggressively the penalties called for in the law are enforced.
Also, the new markets don't have a monopoly on health insurance. People not already covered by an employer or a government program can comply with the insurance mandate by buying a policy directly from an insurer. They'll just have to pay the full premium themselves, although in a few states there may be an exception to that rule as well.
Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and the Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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