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Hundreds of Alabamians rush to make health insurance deadline

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Hundreds of Alabamians rushed to meet the Monday night deadline to sign up for health insurance under the federal health care law.

Jim Carnes, spokesman for the advocacy group Alabama Arise, said he is optimistic Alabama will get close to the federal government's original enrollment forecast. He said interest picked up in the closing weeks of enrollment as people learned more about the tax credits they could get to lower the cost of the health insurance.

The student-led group Bama Covered had a large crowd turn out Sunday for an event in Birmingham. Co-founder Josh Carpenter says they helped about 100 enroll. He recounted a barber who will be paying $17 per month after the tax credits and a roofer who will pay $22 per month.

Carpenter said many others wanted to sign up, but they were in the gap where they make too much to get Medicaid coverage but they don't make enough to qualify for the tax breaks in the health insurance program.

Gov. Robert Bentley decided not to expand Alabama's Medicaid program under the federal health care law. That would have added about 300,000 people to the more than 900,000 currently receiving Medicaid. Bentley, a physician, stood by the decision Monday, calling the federal law "one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed."

"I have compassion for those who can't get insurance. When I was a physician, I never turned anyone away," he said.

With the deadline approaching Monday night, sign-up events were being held at some public and college libraries across Alabama, and officials reported lots of activity, despite some problems with the federal government's website for accessing Alabama's federally operated insurance marketplace.

"It's a fairly complex process and you need help," Carpenter said.

The federal government's original goal for Alabama was 82,000 enrollments through Monday. More than 55,000 had signed up through the end of February. Carnes said an unofficial federal report he saw a few days ago put the enrollment at 70,600 as of March 23.

The next enrollment period starts Nov. 15, but Carnes said people can sign up before then if they have a major life event, such as a marriage, divorce, birth of a child or loss of a job.

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