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Applications see big rise locally

Local medical providers reported big increases in the number of people seeking help in applying for health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act on Monday, this year’s deadline for starting the enrollment process.

Mary Haupert, chief executive officer of Neighborhood Health Clinics, said dozens of people received application assistance at the nonprofit clinic on South Calhoun Street.

“It is significantly busier” than on a typical Monday, Haupert said in a telephone interview. “We have had a steady stream of applicants.”

Lutheran Health Network saw more demand for applications from its uninsured patients.

“I’m sensing this has been one of the busiest days for enrollment attempts and questions during the entire process,” Geoff Thomas, public relations supervisor for Lutheran, said in an email.

Neither Lutheran nor Neighborhood Health Clinics had tallied their application numbers. The enrollment period for coverage starting in 2014 began Oct. 1. Enrollment for coverage starting next year will begin Nov. 15.

Neighborhood Health Clinics stayed open two hours later than usual Monday to aid applicants. Gina Perez, 50, was among the last appointments, although she was unsure whether she would enroll unless she qualifies for tax credits.

“If it is too expensive, I can’t afford it. My income is just barely a living right now,” said Perez, who works at a factory.

She said she needs medical coverage for herself and two sons. Insurance plans offered through the Affordable Care Act run hundreds of dollars a month.

Perez moved to the United States 24 years ago from South Korea, which has a public insurance system in which people contribute according to income level.

“Everybody has health insurance” in South Korea, she said. “I thought the Obama plan was just like the Korea plan, but that’s not really true.”

The Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, establishes coverage standards for participating private insurers and offers premium subsidies for lower-income customers.

The Affordable Care Act enrollment website, HealthCare.gov, reportedly was out of service for nearly four hours early Monday and suffered slowdowns throughout the day.

In mid-afternoon, Haupert said the website “is running slowly, but it is running.” But shortly after 5 p.m., Neighborhood Health Clinics said the website was temporarily inaccessible.

The Obama administration said it will grant extensions to people whose applications were affected by computer errors.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., an opponent of the federal health care law, said in a statement: “Today’s technical problems are just one more example of why all Americans deserve to be protected from this law’s mandates. Whether it is website problems, canceled plans, increased costs or lost access to providers of choice, too many Hoosier families have been negatively affected by Obamacare.”

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, issued a statement containing similar complaints. He contended Obama “is holding this big government plan together with delays, changes, and a shoestring.”

Neighborhood Health Clinics will continue to aid people who need to change their insurance policies through the Affordable Care Act.

“If you get married, you get to add your husband” to the policy, Haupert said. “If you have a baby, you can add the baby. … So people will be able to apply in between (enrollment periods) for the same reasons they can change their insurance status at their employer.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 4.2 million Americans, including nearly 65,000 Indiana residents, had enrolled in an insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act as of March 1.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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