Last-minute applicants flood health insurance website

By
Courtesy of the Associated Press

April 1, 2014

A flood of last-minute visitors to the HealthCare.gov website delayed health insurance sign-ups for many local residents Monday — the last day of open enrollment for health coverage this year under the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s frustrating,” said 56-year-old Kenneth Flowers of Dayton, who visited the Helping Hands Community Outreach Center late Monday morning to finish an application he had started weeks earlier.

“I’ve already been approved for coverage. I just need to select a plan. I wish I had done this earlier, but there are so many options, it’s hard to decide.”

Flowers was among more than 1.2 million consumers who visited the website before noon, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Officials said that the site successfully handled record traffic of 2.9 million visitors over the weekend and is closing in on an initial goal of 7 million sign-ups.

While applications were being processed smoothly, according to government officials, the site could accommodate only about 125,000 visitors at one time. Whenever the website exceeded capacity, overflow applicants were directed to a virtual waiting room where they were put on hold.

“The waiting room is up to meet demand. Consumers may wait, or may leave their email, and they will be invited back,” HHS spokesman Fabien Levy said Monday afternoon. He could not provide an estimate of the number of applicants put on hold.

Still, anyone who started the application process before midnight Monday can continue their application under a two-week extension granted by the Obama administration for consumers facing special circumstances, including system errors that hindered enrollment, processing errors or unresolved issues with caseworkers.

Based on the continuous calls for appointments at the Community Action Partnership of Greater Dayton on Monday, throngs of area residents will need the extra time, said Michelle Nelson, the nonprofit’s outreach project director for ACA enrollment.

“We have people making appointments for themselves, their friends, their neighbors,” Nelson said. “Before the deadline, people would make appointments and not show up. Today, we have CACs (certified application counselors) signing people up two at a time.”

The community action agency also handled referrals from partner agencies that were overwhelmed by requests for assistance, said Nelson, who estimated her office would process about 30 to 40 people Monday for either expanded Medicaid coverage or private Health Insurance Marketplace policies sold through the federal website.

“We’ve been booked solid since 11 a.m.,” she said. “So far, we haven’t had to turn anyone away. But we’ll have to roll some over to tomorrow. We’ve had five times as much traffic today as any other day.”

Despite the surge of last-minute enrollees, some local residents have decided to ignore the so-called individual mandate that requires most Americans to obtain health coverage this year or pay a tax penalty equal to $95 per adult or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.

“People are scared or just plain not doing anything,” said Jeff Maxwell, an independent healthcare agent who led an information session on the ACA on Monday at the Middletown Family YMCA.

Only one person attended the session, according to Maxwell, who said he thinks more people are willing to pay the fine than select a health plan.

Cindy Trauthwein, a certified application counselor for nonprofit Primary Health Solutions in Middletown and Hamilton, said the agency’s two application counselors had a full load of appointments Monday and even held hours Saturday to accommodate extra appointments leading up to the deadline.

“Some know exactly what they’re doing and need a little assistance, and others we have to walk through the entire process,” said Trauthwein, who said her agency has assisted more than 1,000 clients since open enrollment began last October.

But perhaps the most telling numbers come from the insurers themselves.

Officials at CareSource, the Dayton-based Medicaid managed care provider that also sells private insurance under the CareSource Just4Me brand, said they not only received a nonstop flow of phone calls Monday from people wanting health care coverage, their enrollment had increased 30 percent since mid-March.

“To date, CareSource Just 4Me has an enrollment of more than 25,000,” said Scott Streator, vice president, Health Insurance Marketplace for CareSource. “We are exceeding our enrollment projections, (and) nearly two-thirds, or more than 60 percent of enrollees in CareSource Just4Me, were uninsured before enrolling in the plan.”

Staff writers Nick Daggy and Hannah Poturalski contributed to this report.

———

©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

Visit the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) at www.daytondailynews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services