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3 Days Left: With Sunday Deadline, Officials Urge Not To Delay Getting Obamacare Coverage

NJ.com — Thursday, February 12, 2015

By Tim Darragh | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Go back in time a little less than a year, when the first open enrollment period for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act was coming to a close.

Two million people flooded healthcare.gov, the federal government's site for shopping and choosing plans.

Applications started, but not finished, by the deadline are allowed to run past the closing date. The system teetered on collapse.

A little more than three days from the end of the second open enrollment period, what's as notable as the number of people enrolled is the application process.

No system crashes. No backlogs of partially complete applications.

It's "the story that we're not hearing this year," said Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action. "We have not been hearing about problems with healthcare.gov."

That's not to say enrollment officials want consumers looking for health coverage to wait until the deadline of midnight Sunday to sign up. Collinsgru and Kevin Counihan, director and Chief Executive Officer of the federal marketplace program, spoke on a conference call Thursday and urged consumers not to procrastinate.

Late shoppers are starting to have an effect on operations. USA Today this week reported that wait times on the federal government's toll-free enrollment phone line were up to 15-20 minutes by the end of January.

Consumers have "a great opportunity" to sign up for a plan if they act before the weekend, Counihan said.

Thus far, 222,640 people in New Jersey enrolled or re-enrolled in an Obamacare plan through the marketplace, an increase of more than 37 percent over the total number enrolled last year.

Those enrollments do not include individuals who signed up for Medicaid under the health care law.

Eighty-three percent of New Jerseyans who picked a plan during this open enrollment period qualified for tax credits averaging $309 a month, according to a the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For six out of every 10 consumers who qualified for credits, insurance premiums cost less than $100 a month, it said.

"We're doing well in New Jersey," Counihan said.

Anecdotal evidence suggests efforts to reach Hispanics in New Jersey were resulting in stronger enrollment numbers, Collinsgru said. Only about 7,200 people who identified themselves as Hispanic enrolled last year in New Jersey.

On average, officials said, it takes about 30 minutes to enroll in a plan, although some of the late applicants likely will be individuals with "complex" cases, such as multiple income sources, mixed family settings and multiple health needs, Collinsgru said. Those applications could take 90 minutes to two hours, she said.

The federal government has additional people working at the enrollment call center at 1-800-318-2596, navigators are at work in the field and more face-to-face help will be available at 15 public enrollment events Friday through Sunday. For a complete list, go to www.coverednj.org.

Toms River resident Joe Dellilo joined the conference call and said he was able to find a plan through the marketplace that cut his old premium of $700 roughly in half. He said he's happy enough with that coverage that he renewed it for 2015.

"My main message is don't wait" to enroll, he said.

Through the end of January, close to 8 million people nationwide enrolled or re-enrolled in plans through the federal marketplace, which covers 36 states.

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