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Gazette Premium Content Colorado's health insurance site buzzing until deadline

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: April 1, 2014 at 7:59 am

Health insurance shoppers rushed to beat Monday's deadline for enrolling in mandatory health coverage - resulting in a mixed bag of new enrollees and other Coloradans who, despite their efforts, were left waiting in line.

Colorado's health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, appeared to out-perform its federal counterpart Monday as traffic swelled with shoppers looking to avoid tax penalties for going without coverage due to the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. Assistance sites also logged a surge of shoppers.

People waited 90 minutes in a line that stretched out the door of a Denver shop that was converted into a health care enrollment site, prompting the exchange to open up two additional storefronts to handle the demand. Another rush hit the enrollment center at Peak Vista Community Health Centers in Colorado Springs.

AP sources: Health law sign-ups on track to hit 7M

The cost of missing Monday's deadline has weighed on shoppers in recent weeks. Most people who go without coverage must pay a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income, whichever is greater.

"It's been crazy," said Susan Gomez, the nonprofit's director of client services. "People tend to wait until the last minute, and this was no different."

Officials running Colorado's exchange website reported no problems as open enrollment came to a close.

Still, consumers reported pages on the exchange website occasionally failing to load. A spike in visitors to the state's Medicaid website also slowed that system.

In recent months, the Medicaid website offered real-time eligibility notices to 60 percent to 70 percent of the people who filled out the forms accurately and completely. On Monday, that figure dropped to 43 percent, said Marc Williams, a Medicaid spokesman.

"On a scale of one to 10, we're 10s - we've done wonderfully," said Karen Morgan, a health coverage guide, while assessing Colorado's exchange website. "But today, there were certainly glitches, and I think it had to do with the volume."

Procrastination, confusion and occasional website problems brought nearly two dozen people to the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments' office, where a handful of health care guides worked Monday.

Eight hours before the deadline, Terry Roberson, 35, held a newly printed Medicaid card - a sign of the system working. Enrollment took him less than 30 minutes.

"If something happens, I know I'll be OK," he said, ending a year without coverage.

Not everyone left covered.

Peggy Hirsch, 62, walked out of the building with more work to do. To receive federal subsidies for an insurance plan, she needed to show that she earned too much for Medicaid - federally funded health care that expanded to include everyone making less than roughly $16,000 a year.

Unlike Roberson, she did not receive an immediate response from Medicaid's website on Monday afternoon - leaving her application in limbo.

Medicaid and exchange officials have vowed to help anyone who tried to enroll before Monday's deadline.

"It's going to be case by case. We're going to work with folks, if they didn't complete their enrollment, to complete it," said Ben Davis, an exchange spokesman.

Count Dutch Hamilton, 34, among those who plan to try again Tuesday.

He managed to get further than Hirsch: Medicaid denied his application Monday, meaning he could get federal subsidies while shopping for insurance.

But website problems never let him move from Medicaid's website back to the state's exchange.

"We didn't get anything done, really," Hamilton said.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report

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