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With Three Weeks Left, Consumers Fear They May End Up Without Health Coverage On New Year’s Day

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Jordan Rau

Wed, Nov 27 2013

Tambra Momi has been eagerly awaiting the promise of guaranteed health insurance. Since 2011, she has battled Dercum's disease, a rare and painful condition in which non-cancerous tumors sprout throughout her body, pressing against nerves. Jobless and in a wheelchair, Momi needs nine different drugs, including one costing $380 a month, to control the pain and side effects. No insurer has been willing to cover her, she says, except a few that have taken her money and then refused to pay for her medications.

Yet her effort to sign up for the health law's coverage has been painful in its own way. Momi, a resident of Fort Mohave, Ariz., hasn’t been able to complete an application on the federal healthcare.gov website. Three attempts to submit an application over the phone haven’t panned out. Once when she called back, she says she was told they had no record of the application. Another time, officials told her they could see the application but couldn’t open it.

"I was so elated with this whole thing," Momi, 46, says about the health insurance marketplace, "and now I’m praying to God that I’ll be able to get something."

Enrollment has been open since Oct. 1, but hitches such as those that Momi encountered have put many people behind schedule. The next three weeks are critical for consumers keen on getting health coverage as soon as the health law allows it on Jan. 1. People who desire coverage by then need to sign up in the new marketplaces no later than Dec. 23. Consumers can still enroll up to the end of March, but their coverage will begin later.

For people in the states with well-functioning insurance websites, such as California, New York and Kentucky, this appears to leave plenty of time. But making the deadline could be dicier for people in Arizona and the 35 other states where the federal website healthcare.gov is the path to coverage, as well as Oregon and Hawaii, which have struggled to get their sites functioning. On Sunday, the government reported progress in improving healthcare.gov, saying the site now allows more than 800,000 visits a day with the rate of timeouts or crashes reduced to below 1 percent. Officials said repairs continue.

The technological trials for these websites have turned an enrollment period that was supposed to be a leisurely three-month stroll into a last-minute sprint for millions of Americans. "The challenge ahead is you have a lot of people who need to get into the system," said Sarah Lueck, an analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank that focuses on issues related to low- and moderate-income people.

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