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Deadline extended to Christmas Eve for new health insurance plan

Luis Irizarry MilmColreceive assistance from Fran Betancourt an outreach enrollment in-perscounselor with PCC Community Wellness Center during Norwegian American Hospital's

Luis Irizarry and Milma Colon receive assistance from Fran Betancourt, an outreach and enrollment in-person counselor with PCC Community Wellness Center, during Norwegian American Hospital's "12 Hours of Enrollment" Monday afternoon. The hospital was helping area residents enroll in Affordable Care Act health plans on this last day if they wanted coverage on January first. | Michael R. Schmidt-For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 25, 2014 6:21AM



Monday was supposed to be last day for uninsured Illinoisans to buy a newly-created insurance plan made possible by President Barack Obama’s health care law, if they wanted to have their coverage kick in Jan. 1, 2014.

But as consumers flooded the trouble-plagued federal website, HealthCare.gov on Monday, the Health and Human Services extended the deadline to enroll in health insurance by one day, until midnight Christmas Eve.

And consumers still have until March 31 to enroll in one of these plans for next year while avoiding paying a penalty for not having health insurance.

Consumers who bought a health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act must pay their first premium by Jan. 10 to ensure the plan is actually effective Jan. 1 retroactively.

Those who qualify for Medicaid can enroll at anytime without penalty.

Navigators said the people who enrolled Monday were a mixture of those who had already had appointments for that date or those who, for the first time, heard on the news that the deadline was Monday and came in a “rush.”

Most, though, said that Saturday’s events drew bigger crowds.

Norwegian American Hospital in West Town had “12 Hours of Enrollment” on Monday, run by PCC Community Wellness Center, to get last-minute enrollees signed up. About 25 people had shown up between 8 a.m. -1 p.m.

One of those, Nour Beyoud, 20, who lives on the North Side, said she had heard about the so-called “Obamacare” for months, but it was her dad who reminded her last week.

“Thank God, we made it today,” Beyod said, who wasn’t sure if she would qualify for Medicaid or a private plan. “We’re not rich…so we need health insurance, in case an emergency came up.”

Charles Edwards, an in-person counselor and navigator for PCC Community Wellness Center, said getting the people who showed up enrolled was a little difficult, because HealthCare.gov was overloaded with visitors.

But “we were expecting that today,” he said.

As of 2 p.m., the site saw about 850,000 visit — roughly five times higher than the amount seen last Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said. By 5 p.m., it had surpassed 1 million visitors.

Illinois’ call center also saw an increase. During the first weekend of December, the state’s call center received 222 calls. Saturday and Sunday’s call center numbers increased to 1,625.

Not everyone who showed up at Norwegian American Hospital, though, was in a rush to enroll. Eric Mendiola, 24, just wanted to get more information about what, if anything, the law had to offer for him and his brother, who are both uninsured.

“You never know when you might need it,” he said, but said he was fine with waiting until next week to apply.

mjthomas@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MonifaThomas1



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