New Hampshire insurance applicants surge on health care deadline day
CONCORD, N.H. -- Francesca Latawiec, a struggling professor who jokes that she bags groceries to support her "teaching habit," kept her sense of humor Monday even after getting shut out of the federal health insurance website.
The 57-year-old Barnstead woman got as far as creating an account but wasn't able to access it. The marketplace assister who was helping her then tried to call a government hotline but couldn't get through. Latawiec said she hopes to enroll during the grace period for those who have started applications.
"Things really haven't worked it," she said, laughing. "It seems like the system is overloaded, which is understandable -- it's the last day. We've been having trouble getting in. But I guess I have an account, so I'm in the queue."
President Barack Obama's administration said a new technical problem temporarily prevented new users from accessing the system Monday, the deadline for individuals to sign up for coverage under the health care overhaul law. Early in the day, the healthcare.gov website was out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug.
Latawiec works part time as an adjunct professor of ecology and geology at Lakes Region Community College and bags groceries in Concord to make ends meet. She joked that the second job supports her "teaching habit" but turned serious when describing how she relies on a food pantry for some meals has gone without insurance since 2008.
"I spent 10 years in college, I have a master's and two professional certifications, and I can't afford health insurance," she said.
Dan Walsh, a marketplace assister with the Foundation for Healthy Communities, told Latawiec she likely would qualify for a subsidized health plan that would cost about $25 per month. But even that would be a struggle, she said.
"It doesn't sound like a lot of money, but that's a lot of money when you're scrounging for gas (money) and you don't even leave your house unless you have to," she said. "I hate to say that was too much money for me, but I'm here because I'm afraid of the penalty."
Those who miss Monday's deadline risk getting fined for not having coverage, but Walsh said Latawiec's income may be low enough to exempt her from the penalty. Depending on her income, she also may be eligible for Medicaid -- Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill last week expanding the state's program to cover about 50,000 poor adults by using federal Medicaid money to buy private coverage.
New Hampshire has roughly 150,000 uninsured residents. By March 1, 21,578 people had signed up for insurance through the federal marketplace. That surpassed the Obama's administration's target of 19,000 for the state for the entire six-month enrollment period, even though New Hampshire got off to a late start with consumer outreach.
The enrollment help session that Latawiec attended at New England College was among dozens being offered around the state Monday. Walsh said he had appointments scheduled all day, and 10 more people called Monday morning hoping for slots.
"I'm getting phone call after phone call. It's very hard to keep up with, but I'm doing my best," he said.
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