Navigators see jump ahead of enrollment deadline

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Residents continued flooding the federal health insurance website Monday, ahead of a key deadline for securing health coverage by the start of the new year.

Federally-certified insurance navigators and health advocates reported a jump in interest as residents sought coverage that would take effect Jan. 1. However, the federal open enrollment period continues through March.

Federal officials pushed back Monday’s enrollment deadline by a day, as a crush of people hit the federal website nationally.

In Indiana, which is one of 36 states that use a federally-run health care exchange, there was the number of prospective customers jumped markedly on Monday, said Marla Asberry, a federally-certified navigator working with Open Door Health Services in Muncie. However, Asberry said her team has seen a steady increase in recent weeks as word spread about the new law’s requirements and as early glitches with the website eased.

This week’s deadline may have drawn more people to consider buying insurance who had not yet looked on the exchange, but many have been working for weeks to get enrolled, Asberry said. She recounted the story of a woman who began the process on Nov. 11 and was unable to buy a plan until last week.

“She was so sweet, the whole way through it. She just wanted health insurance,” Asberry said.

Figures released by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month showed only a small number of Indiana residents had successfully enrolled in new plans. Of the roughly 21,000 residents expected to enroll in October and November, only 3,500 succeeded.

Health advocates, including Asberry, have said they expect the rate of enrollment to continue climbing through March.

Patty Gremaux, director of community outreach for Elkhart General Hospital, said her staff also got more calls on Monday.

“Individuals seemed to be in a little bit of a panic with the deadline, but once we have assuaged their concerns by telling them this deadline is only if they want coverage for January 1 and that they have until end of March 2014 to enroll, they are calmer and have scheduled appointments in the coming weeks,” Gremaux said.

Enrolling through the federal website was “hit or miss” Monday, as messages about heavy traffic occasionally popped up, Gremaux said. After a short wait, though, staff would try again and have no problem, she said.

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