Last updated: March 31. 2014 9:10PM - 596 Views
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar Associated Press

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Last-minute applicants made a final dash to sign up for health care Monday, the deadline for President Barack Obama’s health care law, with hundreds of thousands of Americans taxing the fragile system stricken by a new series of software bugs.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, said Monday that Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, of Urbana, remain committed to repealing Obama’s law. Jordan, who visited The Lima News on Monday, favors a health care policy that empowers Americans.

Throughout the last week and on Monday, supporters of the health care law fanned out across the country in a final dash to sign up uninsured Americans, including a stop in Lima on Wednesday by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director Kathleen Falk, who traveled to Lima and Columbus from Chicago to convince people to sign up. People not signed up for health insurance by the deadline, either through their jobs or on their own, were subject to being fined by the IRS.

Falk said more than 1 million people in Ohio remained uninsured and she said the stumbling blocks were people still do not understand the law or were unaware of the law taking effect. Between Marketplace and the Medicaid expansion, Health Partners of Western Ohio Operations Director Jolene Joseph said they have assisted more than 5,000 people before this weekend.

Local sources included Health Partners of Western Ohio, St. Rita’s Medical Center and Cheryl Allen Southside Community Center.

Federal officials said the site had not crashed but was experiencing heavy volume. The website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 1.6 million through 2 p.m. Monday.

Falk said the administration announced last week that people who had begun enrolling by the deadline but didn’t finish, perhaps because of errors, missing information or website glitches, will have the deadline extended. The government says it will accept paper applications until April 7 and take as much time as necessary to handle unfinished cases on HealthCare.gov. Rules may vary in states running their own insurance marketplaces.

The administration is also offering special extensions to make up for all sorts of problems that might have kept people from getting enrolled on time: Natural disasters. Domestic abuse. Website malfunctions. Errors by insurance companies. Mistakes by application counselors.

To seek a special enrollment period, contact the federal call center, at 855-889-4325, or the state marketplace and explain what happened. It’s on the honor system. If the extension is approved, that brings another 60 days to enroll.

The website stumbled early in the day — out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. Another hiccup in early afternoon temporarily kept new applicants from signing up, and then things slowed further. Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers say it still runs slowly.

The White House and other supporters of the law were hoping for an enrollment surge that would push sign-ups in the new health insurance markets to around 6.5 million people. That’s halfway between a revised goal of 6 million and the original target of 7 million. The first goal was scaled back after the federal website’s disastrous launch last fall, which kept it offline during most of October.

The administration hasn’t said how many of the 6 million people nationally who had signed up before the weekend ultimately closed the deal by paying their first month’s premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured — the real test of Obama’s health care overhaul. In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.

Jordan said he hopes Congress can modify or repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act soon or after the 2016 election to provide Americans with a better model.

“I hope we can put in place real good health policy that empowers patients, empowers families and their doctor and not this top down model from Washington,” Jordan said. “We have to show Americans what we would do with health care. We announced, Eric Cantor, [R-Va.,] announced back in January, that we Republicans in the House would bring forth an alternative of how we think health care should operate.

“We would allow equal tax treatment where individuals would get the same kind of tax benefit as a company gets for providing insurance for their employees, encouraging and not discouraging health savings accounts, and allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines,” he added. “We are looking at some real common sense, basic tort reform measures.”

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