website hits snags on deadline day - WFLA News Channel 8 website hits snags on deadline day

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On deadline day to sign up for health insurance, the government’s website greeted some users with delays and the busy message that, “ has a lot of visitors right now!”

While Monday at midnight is the official deadline to sign up, the government is allowing people who have started the process extra time to finish.

“This is like election day,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in an interview with News Channel 8. “If you’re in line trying to get enrolled, you’re on the site, you’re trying to make sure you get coverage, we want you to finish the process.”

Sebelius said that users who run into that high traffic page should submit their email and someone will get back to them.

The “apply” section of the website, which had a troubled launch, was available off-and-on throughout the day, but the delay slowed signups at the Hunt Center at Al Lopez Park in Tampa.

“Because there's so many people trying to get on, the system right now it's kind of blocking the people from going in, so they've got them waiting,” said Navigator Carmaletta Stephens. “It says please wait, it will be up in a minute.”

Those who do not get health insurance by the deadline – either through, an employer plan, a government-related plan or another option – could face a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is higher.

Stephens was busy on Monday helping a crowd of people trying to enroll for insurance.

One of those she helped left without signing up, but not because of any technical difficulties.

Carlos Ortiz, 21, came to the enrollment event at the urging of his parents, looking to find a plan he could afford. He said he looked at plans in January, but couldn’t afford them with his part-time job at an after-school program.

Hoping he had just done something wrong to get the answers he did this winter, Ortiz tried again, but got bad news. The plans were still out of his reach, because he doesn’t qualify for subsidies to help pay for them.

Ortiz appears to fall into a gap, where he makes too little money to qualify for help. To qualify, applicants have to make at least $11,490.

The Affordable Care Act was written with the assumption that the states would accept federal dollars to initiate an expansion of Medicaid, which give health coverage to more people. But when Florida did not expand the program, it created a gap in which some people – like Ortiz – don’t qualify for Medicaid and don’t make enough to qualify for subsidies.

“I just feel like I was let down a little bit, a little bit let down,” said Ortiz, who looked crestfallen at the news he wouldn’t be able to get the plans he said his friends and co-workers could get. Because of his income, Ortiz won’t have to pay the penalty fee.

Asked about the gap and whether there is another option for the federal government to step in to make adjustments to allow more people to have access to more affordable insurance, Sebelius referenced the federal offer of money to cover the Medicaid expansion for the states (covering the cost for the first three years, then gradually reducing the federal payment after that).

“Unfortunately there isn’t another option,” she said. “This is the most generous offer that the fed government has ever made for low income, uninsured workers.”

The offer is still on the table, she said.

Another person navigating through issues was Pinellas County resident Kim Meyer. She took a new job at a nursing home in October and neither she nor her husband had insurance. She said she tried to go the federal route for 3 months before it all was straightened out Saturday, when she finally learned after waiting on the phone for two hours that she will have coverage.

"At first there were two applications and then they deleted one," Meyer said. "Then I could never get back on to it to do it."

She said it was a nerve-racking process but that she hopes it pays off because without insurance, she's been paying $215 a month for one prescription.

"We even went to the point where we were just looking at straight-up getting our own insurance...forget going through the market place and just doing it our own ... but it was just so expensive," she said. "Fingers crossed - everything else will work."

WFLA reporter Josh Green contributed to this report. Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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