FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - The insurance enrollment period under the federal health care law ended Monday the same way it began six months earlier, as technology troubles prevented many consumers from completing the online application process for the first half of the day.
Patty Gumpee of Sunrise tried to sign up for insurance midmorning before she rushed off to a job interview, but eventually had to leave a Fort Lauderdale enrollment center because of website glitches.
She was able to create an account with the help of a trained counselor called a navigator, but the website wouldn't let her access the account to fill out the application. Gumpee, 50, was among a half dozen at a Fort Lauderdale enrollment office who left without completing an application. The Epilepsy Foundation of Florida had more than a dozen walk-ins the first two hours they were open Monday.
"I need the health insurance," said Gumpee, who hasn't had insurance in years and goes to the emergency room when she's sick.
Gumpee and several other unsuccessful applicants made appointments to try again next week. Consumers at an enrollment center in West Palm Beach found similar problems. The five counselors were booked solid with 69 appointments and nearly two dozen walk-ins, but the website wasn't working, leaving a waiting room full of frustrated consumers.
The Obama administration acknowledged that a new technical problem was preventing last-minute users from signing up on healthcare.gov. The new problem comes as traffic is surging on deadline day. Health and Human Services spokesman Aaron Albright said more than 100,000 people are using the system at the same time. Federal health officials said the issue had been resolved by Monday afternoon.
The federal hotline wasn't much help either Monday. Most were unable to get through. One navigator waited an hour and a half before finally getting to talk to an operator.
"It's very frustrating," said navigator Ellen Hanson.
Those who fail to meet the deadline face a fine of $95 or 1 percent of their income next year from the Internal Revenue Service for remaining uninsured.
Federal health officials announced last week that people who start an application but cannot finish because of technical problems will get an extension.
"They're feeling good about that. This is not the end of the road," Hanson said.
Florida has emerged as one of the Affordable Care Act's biggest success stories, enrolling more than 440,000 through the end of February - the highest number of the three dozen states relying on the federal exchange.
That comes despite Republican opposition to the law. The state banned navigators from enrolling consumers at county health departments and offered no extra dollars to help with outreach.
But with roughly 3.5 million uninsured Floridians, state Democrats, health advocacy groups and Enroll America formed strategic partnerships to fill in the gaps in this politically important swing state, where the success or failure of the law will likely affect the midterm elections.
Tripp Hobbs was told it would be a three-hour wait for assistance to complete his application. But the kiteboarding instructor who recently turned 26 and is no longer covered under his parents' plan said he didn't mind waiting.
"I'm really accident prone so I'm more than willing to wait however long I have to wait to make sure that I'm insured," he said.
South Florida resident Donald Maxwell said he tried calling the government hotline for weeks.
"I never got anybody. It said they were overloaded and then it just cut off," said Maxwell, who finally decided to go in person Monday to get some help. He learned he earns too much to qualify for Medicaid and didn't qualify for a tax subsidy to help him buy insurance.
"It's the most frustrating system. I've paid into the system since I was 16-years-old and now that I need it I can't get a dime," said Maxwell, a hospital respiratory therapist who lost his job last year.
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