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Advocates take calls, meet with last-minute shoppers in Ohio on health law's deadline day

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Health care advocates in Ohio took last-minute phone calls and met one-on-one with individuals trying to obtain health insurance Monday, the deadline to sign up under President Barack Obama's law.

Karen Ruffin, of Cincinnati, was among those who had put off finding a health plan until the final day amid concerns the process would be difficult.

"I thought I'd be scratching my head and tapping my feet and frustrated," said Ruffin, a 53-year-old construction worker. "None of that occurred."

The nonprofit Enroll America helped Ruffin get coverage in about 20 minutes. The organization saw a steady stream of people seeking assistance Monday.

Ruffin said she has been uninsured for about a year after her hours at work were trimmed. She said she felt lucky to enroll before the deadline.

"Anything could happen to me," Ruffin said. "I could hit myself with a hammer on the job or slip and fall outside of my house. I would like to be covered."

People who start an application before midnight can enroll in subsidized private coverage through the new marketplaces created by the federal law.

Ohio is among the 36 states using the federal website, HealthCare.gov, to enroll people. The site fell out of service for nearly four hours early Monday and experienced technical problems.

Many people won't be able to get subsidized coverage this year after the deadline. However, some consumers could be eligible for extensions, including people who had begun enrolling by the deadline but did not finish.

At a community health center on the west side of Cleveland, about 25 people waited for help with enrollment in the marketplace or Medicaid program on Monday afternoon. Counselors at the health center offered drop-in hours for people seeking coverage and had appointments scheduled until 10 p.m., said Sarah Hackenbracht, executive director of the Cuyahoga Health Access Partnership. The nonprofit organization was assisting with signups and outreach at the health center.

Hackenbracht said helpers have been consistently busy over the past week with people trying to get coverage.

"We need to get something started for most people," she said, adding that assisters want to make sure everyone who needs help can at least get an account set up.

PHOTO: Karen Ruffin, left, signs up for health care with an assistant Henry Knight, right, at Enroll America in Cincinnati, Monday, March 31, 2014. Ruffin said she has been uninsured for about a year and put off signing up until Monday’s deadline because she thought the process would be much more difficult than it turned out to be. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)
Karen Ruffin, left, signs up for health care with an assistant Henry Knight, right, at Enroll America in Cincinnati, Monday, March 31, 2014. Ruffin said she has been uninsured for about a year and put off signing up until Monday’s deadline because she thought the process would be much more difficult than it turned out to be. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)

Under the law, those who go without health insurance can be fined $95 or about 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher.

Almost 79,000 Ohioans have picked plans through the exchange from Oct. 1 through March 1, according to the latest enrollment figures from the Obama administration.

That's far short of the 152,000 Ohioans that the government projected would be signed up by the end of February. The state target set by Obama's administration for the entire enrollment period is 190,000 residents.

The federal data show that many Ohioans obtaining coverage in the marketplace are older. Just 21 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. Most enrollees also are getting financial help to pay their monthly premiums. And of those who have picked plans, 56 percent are women.

Advocates and counselors made their final push to get people signed up at events over the weekend and Monday at libraries, churches, health centers and other facilities.

Phones rang on deadline day at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks in Columbus, where six counselors called navigators helped guide callers through enrollment.

Jessica May, the association's navigator coordinator, said some callers either misunderstood a question on their application or were stuck in the system trying to get to where they could shop and compare health plans.

"There's a general sense of more immediacy," May said. "We are just trying everything we can to make sure that people understand that this is the day."


Myers reported from Cincinnati.


Online:

http://ohioforhealth.org/

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