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Missourians struggle with last-minute health care enrollment

By Evan Millward, Weekend Anchor/Reporter, evanm@kmiz.com
Published On: Mar 31 2014 10:58:55 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 01 2014 01:04:59 AM CDT

Some Columbia residents waited until hours before the Affordable Health Care Act deadline and then found themselves playing a waiting game when the website overloaded Monday.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -

Last-minute enrollment efforts across Missouri were expected to boost the number of consumers gaining coverage through the new federal health insurance law, but organizers said the deadline push won't hit anticipated enrollment targets.

Late Monday night, sources told the Associated Press the numbers nationwide were expected to hit the White House goal of seven million, beating expectations.

The Cover Missouri Coalition expected statewide enrollment through the Affordable Care Act's online health insurance marketplace to top 100,000 by Monday's deadline. The federal government projected Missouri's six-month enrollment at 118,000.

Some Columbia residents who waited until the last minute to sign up through healthcare.gov found themselves stuck when the website got overloaded on Monday.

"I don't think it's that it's broken, it's the volume that's really been a problem the last week," said Jean Leonatti, CEO of the Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging, noting Monday comparisons to the website's dismal October launch.

Leonatti said her so-called navigators had helped more people enroll in plans in the past two weeks than they had in the previous two months. At Family Health Center in Columbia, employees told ABC 17 News they had a waiting list of people who had requested help enrolling before the deadline.

Aleasha Arrington arrived at the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia around 6:30 p.m. to try to get enrolled. She was one of dozens Central Missouri Community Action helped on Monday.

"I've been saying everyday, 'I need to go do this, I need to go do this, I need to go do this,'" Arrington told ABC 17 News. "And the last day got here before I knew it."

She got through on the website, despite a four hour-long downtime earlier Monday and continued overwhelming of the website's servers. But once her account was created, she couldn't get the email needed to continue to select her insurance options.

"Their emails are not coming through to those individual's private email accounts sop we're not ready to log into the system where it identifies them," explained Central Missouri Community Action community services supervisor Emily Young.

Young said CMCA had seen steady numbers of people seeking help at the library for several weeks, peaking last Saturday.

Despite the lines, delays and website issues, mid-Missouri navigators said the people they had enrolled were generally happy with the final product. But there was a need to improve the service before open enrollment began again in November.

"We want to sit down at some point in time and just debrief - 'what worked? What didn't work? And what suggestions can we make to them for next year so it can work better?'" Leonatti said.

Missouri is one of 36 states where the online marketplace is being run by the federal government after state lawmakers balked at participation in President Obama's signature effort.

As for Arrington and her family trying to enroll with just hours before the deadline, she would have to wait one week before completing the process. A proposed delay would mean people like Arrington, who had started the process and made an effort to get enrolled, wouldn't be penalized for not having insurance starting April 1.

"I've got to an appointment to come back Monday to finish up, so that's good," Arrington, who hasn't had health insurance for years said.

She added that the first appointment she would make would be with an eye doctor to get new glasses.

Deadline-day activities in Kansas City and St. Louis resembled the final frantic hours of a political campaign, with organized community events to boost enrollment as well as aggressive social media efforts and door-to-door messages.

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