Deadline day for exchange busy but rocky

Print Friendly and PDF By: Andy Miller Published: Mar 31, 2014

Like many other last-minute shoppers, radio talk show host Sidney Wood sought to sign up for insurance coverage Monday just before a midnight deadline.

Wood, of WAOK in Atlanta, originally signed up for an Affordable Care Act health plan in December, but he didn’t pay the premiums and wound up without a policy.

Sidney Wood meets with navigator Amanda Ptashkin

Sidney Wood meets with navigator Amanda Ptashkin

At a Monday event sponsored by World Changers Church International in College Park, Wood got help enrolling from Amanda Ptashkin. She’s a health insurance navigator, a specially trained guide for people using the health care exchange.

“I’m a cancer survivor,’’ said Wood, 48, adding that he has been uninsured for a couple of years.

Unfortunately, he didn’t find everything running smoothly on deadline day. Even with the expert help of Ptashkin, Wood was among legions of people across America who had difficulty making headway on healthcare.gov.

The final enrollment day for the ACA insurance exchange was marred by computer glitches. The problem was a frustrating reminder of the much worse technical problems that plagued the website for weeks after it debuted in early October and November.

On Monday morning, the enrollment system on HealthCare.gov was taken offline for scheduled maintenance between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., but then remained down longer than planned after the discovery of a software bug.

After coming back up, it worked for a time, but then the high demand forced the site to activate its “virtual waiting room,” where people could hold before being let into the site. People also had trouble creating new accounts.

Things remained glitchy in the afternoon, according to enrollment officials at the College Park event.

“The site has been up and down today,’’ said Dante McKay of the Get Covered America campaign in Georgia. “We’re having capacity issues.’’

Despite all that, the recent surge of enrollees has been good news for ACA advocates.

Dante McKay

Dante McKay

Politico reported that call center activity, website traffic and lines at in-person help centers around the country suggested the numbers were soaring. California alone passed 1.2 million, its state exchange said.

Last week, the federal government said it would extend the deadline for people who tried to apply but were blocked by technical problems with the site. The White House said that it had exceeded its revised goal of signing up 6 million people over the federal exchange and similar sites run by some states.

The White House said there were 2.9 million visits to the website over the weekend, and last week they counted more phone calls from Americans inquiring about signing up for insurance that they saw in all of February.

By late afternoon, more than 200 people had attended the event at the College Park church. Twenty navigators were stationed there to help people enroll.

Yet there was frustration over the website balkiness.

A Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that healthcare.gov was experiencing record volume, with 1.6 million visits through 2 p.m. and 125,000 users online at the same time.

At World Changers, navigator Bill Rencher said he was mostly taking paper applications due to the balky website. “They have till April 7 to mail them,’’ he said.

The application for the tax credit “at least gets them into the system,’’ added Rencher, who said he was unsure what the deadlines would be after that.

After a lengthy website delay, Wood finally was able to enroll in a new medical and dental plan that will cost him $78 per month, Ptashkin said.

Several College Park event attendees waited patiently for their turn with a navigator.

Before their consultation, Harold and Jacqueline Brewer of Lithonia said they came to get more information about the coverage offered.

“Hopefully we can get some better rates,’’ said Harold Brewer. He arrived at the event uninsured, and said he preferred to talk to a navigator rather than an insurance company representative about his options.

Christina Vance of College Park came with two daughters. “I let the deadline sneak up on me,’’ she said, smiling.

 

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