ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Technology problems plagued a federal website for the second day as Floridians tried to browse their insurance options under President Barack Obama's health care law. Federal health officials blamed the glitches on high web traffic, not hidden flaws.
Amid the problems, federal health officials refused to say how many people enrolled online but instead played up the high level of interest in signing up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act. Roughly 4.7 million unique visits in the first 24 hours; and their call center fielded more than 190,000 calls. However, the number of those actually able to enroll appeared to be low in Florida.
A few community health centers around the state, including ones in Miami and central Florida, were able to sign a small number of consumers up for health plans online. Counselors relied on paper application elsewhere. Federal health officials said they were working on the kinks and promised improvements in the coming hours and days.
"It was quick...we may have had a good 20 minutes or so before the system started to get funky," said Andy Behrman, president and CEO of Florida Association of Community Health Centers.
"We don't care about the politics. This is about people so we were trying to make it easy for the patients," said Behrman.
It was a different story at other South Florida community health centers.
"We were not able to enroll but we were able to set appointments for the rest of this week and help the people gather the required documentation," said Jerson Dulis, a certified application counselor with Broward Community & Family Health Centers, Inc.
Forty-six year-old Shelly Armand was hoping to sign up for health insurance at a community health center in South Miami on Wednesday. Counselors took her information and said they would call her when the website was running smoothly.
Armand, who works full-time and doesn't have insurance, spends more than $75 a month on medications for diabetes and hypertension.
"It's hard for me," she said. "With this Obamacare, it would give us a boost for those of us that need it."
Navigators working for the University of South Florida, which received the state's largest federal grant, were operating in a 'make it work' mode.
Their navigators in Tampa were busy scheduling appointments for the next few weeks. In the Orlando area, navigators made contact with 50 people; and a Jacksonville event attended by the mayor generated 34 phone calls and 71 email requests for assistance, said project director Jodi Ray.
"Simply going online and not being able to get a Web application is not going to slow down the responsiveness from us... if people are ready to apply, let's get them started on the process," said Ray, who predicts it's going to get much busier.
But many Floridians were still confused about requirements under the new law. Those who already have insurance, including Medicare or Medicaid, don't need to do anything. Those without insurance or consumers simply looking for cheaper coverage can shop on the new exchange. But many Floridians were still unaware how much the new health plans would cost because they couldn't access www.healthcare.gov.
The most expensive health insurance premiums for individuals in Florida in the new government-run online marketplace are in the Florida Keys, and the cheapest premiums are for a bare-bones plan offered in Broward County, according to federal data.
The state's cheapest monthly premiums were for plans covering only catastrophic emergencies in Broward County. Those plans offered by insurer Coventry One in Broward County would cost a 27-year-old almost $86 a month and a 50-year-old would pay $146 monthly. The state's most expensive premiums, for a plan offered by Florida Blue, have the highest level of benefits, known as a platinum plan. It would cost a 27-year-old individual almost $460 a month and a 50-year-old Floridian $782 a month.
Overall, the most expensive premiums in Florida were for platinum and gold plans found in the Florida Keys, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland. The least expensive premiums were for bronze and catastrophic plans scattered throughout metro Tampa, Jacksonville, metro Pensacola and South Florida.
But insurers caution consumers to consider more than just the bottom line. If you want to stay with a particular doctor's network or have around-the-clock customer service, it may cost more. Alternatively, even though a premium may be low, there could be a $5,000 deductible before the plan kicks in.
Roughly half of Florida's 3.5 million uninsured residents may be eligible for federal subsidies to help them purchase insurance, according to the liberal advocacy group Families USA. But the amount will vary widely depending on income, location, the plan, family size, age, and even tobacco use.
Insurance plans offered through the exchange have undergone a major upgrade. As of Jan. 1, insurers can no longer turn away people with pre-existing medical conditions, and they will be limited in what they can charge to older policy holders. Consumers' financial exposure will be capped. Insurers are also required to offer beefed up benefits under the plans, so while prices may increase, consumers will be getting a meatier product.
Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.