REINEKE FORD   ||   NEWS UPDATES

Deadline dash: Health care sign-ups amid glitches

Comment: Off

SEIU-UHW worker Kathy Santana, left , assists Ruben Tares, 27, during a health care enrollment event at SEIU-UHW office, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Commerce, Calif. Monday marks this year’s open enrollment deadline, but consumers will get extra time to finish their applications. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

SEIU-UHW worker Kathy Santana, left , assists Ruben Tares, 27, during a health care enrollment event at SEIU-UHW office, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Commerce, Calif. Monday marks this year’s open enrollment deadline, but consumers will get extra time to finish their applications. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Lisa Valera and her husband Manuel sign up for Obamacare at the Community Service Society, Monday, March 31, 2014 in New York. The troubled U.S. government web site for signing up for health insurance was unavailable for several hours Monday morning as the midnight deadline for buying coverage loomed. Heading into the deadline, more than 6 million Americans had signed up for health insurance, some of the policies heavily subsidized for lower income people. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A screen shows the countdown for the deadline to sign up for health insurance during a health care enrollment event at SEIU-UHW office, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Commerce, Calif. Monday marks this year’s open enrollment deadline, but consumers will get extra time to finish their applications. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The HealthCare.gov website is shown on a laptop in Washington, Monday, March 31, 2014. Today is the deadline to sign up for private heath insurance in the online markets created by President Obama’s heath care law or face a federal fines. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

A man assists a woman sing up for health insurance at Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, Ark., Monday, March 31, 2014. Monday is the deadline to sign up for private heath insurance in the online markets created by President Obama’s heath care law. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Buy AP Photo Reprints

WASHINGTON (AP) — A flood of last-minute applicants rushed to sign up for health insurance on Monday, deadline day for President Barack Obama’s health care law, with more than 125,000 people at a time using the fragile system despite a new spate of intermittent ills.

Supporters of the overhaul 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.

The website stumbled early in the day — out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. The system came back up shortly before 9 a.m. EDT, then another hiccup in early afternoon temporarily kept new applicants from signing up. The system, overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, has been working much better in recent months and officials said it was operating at full capacity on Monday.

At Chicago’s Norwegian American Hospital, people began lining up shortly after 7 a.m. to get help signing up for subsidized private health insurance.

Lucy Martinez, an unemployed single mother of two boys, said she’d previously tried to enroll at a clinic in another part of the city but there was always a problem. She’d wait and wait and they wouldn’t call her name, or they would ask her for paperwork that she was told earlier she didn’t need, she said. Her diabetic mother would start sweating so they’d have to leave.

She’s heard “that this would be better here,” said Martinez, adding that her mother successfully signed up Sunday at a different location.

“Organizations across the country have been mobilizing for this moment,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an advocacy group that has supported the health care overhaul from its inception. “I think we are going to see huge numbers of people get involved.”

At St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Del., enrollment counselor Hubert Worthen plunged into a long day. “I got my energy drink,” he said. “This is epic, man.”

At a Houston community center, there were immigrants from Ethiopia, Nepal, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other conflict-torn areas, many of them trying anew after failing to complete applications previously. In addition to needing help with the actual enrollment, they needed to wait for interpreters. Many had taken a day off from work, hoping to meet the deadline.

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, D.C., are running their own enrollment websites.

New York, running its own site, reported more than 812,000 had signed up by Sunday morning, nearly 100,000 of them last week.

However, it’s unclear what those numbers may mean.

The administration hasn’t said how many of the 6 million people nationally who had signed up before the weekend ultimately closed the deal by paying their first month’s premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured — the real test of Obama’s health care overhaul. In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.

Cheering on the deadline-day sign-up effort, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius planned to spend much of the day Monday working out of the department’s TV studio, conducting interviews by satellite with stations around the country.

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

Comments

comments

About the Author