By KHN Editors
Tue, Apr 1 2014
Last minute health insurance shoppers nationwide turned up in record numbers online Monday, and they also showed up in person at clinics, county health departments and libraries to sign up for Obamacare on the last official day of open enrollment. Here are dispatches from public radio reporters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Houston — three of the 36 states that are using healthcare.gov — and Minnesota, which has one of the most troubled state-run marketplaces.
OBSTACLES IN CLEVELAND: A steady stream of people filed through the doors of the Neighborhood Family Practice, a free clinic on Cleveland’s near west side Monday, but Leah Pallant, an outreach and enrollment coordinator at the clinic expected many of them to leave without actually selecting a plan before the midnight deadline.
“The website is already in and out,” Pallant said. “The number of people on the website really made it difficult to keep working, because it basically just shuts you out entirely when they have too many visitors.”
Federal officials said more than 1.2 million people from around the country had visited by noon Monday, and the site was handling as many as 125,000 people at a time. The site was down from about 3:20 a.m. until 9 a.m. for maintenance and then again later midday; at other points during the day it shunted people into a “virtual waiting room.”
Coordinators in Ohio and across the country encountered many of the same problems as people trying to sign up at home.
Pallant’s colleague, coordinator Jackie Mostow, was working with Cleveland resident Callie Williams. “We can try,” Mostow told Williams, “but what we might end up doing is trying to create an account and we’ll schedule you an appointment to come back.”
Williams, who hasn’t had insurance since the 1990s, said she is willing to wait a bit longer. “Just schedule me an appointment to come back,” she said.
Joyce Jones, who works two part-time jobs, arrived at the clinic late Monday morning after trying to use the website on her own. “I didn’t like what I was seeing because as you look at the deductibles, all I can say is ‘wow,’ because you have to pay all that before your bill even gets paid,” Jones said. “So that’s why I chose to come in to talk about it and see if I can get a better plan.”
In Ohio, 83 percent of those who have signed up for plans on the exchange have qualified for financial assistance. And Jones will have more time to shop due to another late change in the rules. Federal officials have said they will grant extensions to those who tried to start an application on the website and couldn’t finish.