- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 2,000 District of Columbia residents either enrolled in a health insurance plan or were found to be eligible for Medicaid after the official end of open enrollment on March 31, but a spike in call volume this week led to another extension of the deadline, officials said Wednesday.

The district was one of a handful of states that joined President Barack Obama’s administration in offering a grace period into April for people who started applications but didn’t finish them by the end of March.

That period was supposed to end on Tuesday, but Mila Kofman, executive director of the district’s health insurance exchange, said Wednesday that she decided another extension was necessary because of call volume during the last two days before the new deadline. Calls nearly doubled, and 16 percent of callers hung up before speaking to someone, she said.

“We wanted to make sure that if people were trying to get through and couldn’t, that everyone had extra time,” she said.

The new extension, through April 30, will be the last one, Kofman said. The exchange has delayed important system upgrades and can’t continue open enrollment beyond that date, she said.

Between April 1 and April 15, 699 district residents enrolled in private insurance plans, and another 1,506 were found to be eligible for Medicaid, Kofman said. Through March 31, more than 9,800 people had signed up for private insurance, and more than 17,000 were deemed to be Medicaid-eligible.

Before its health exchange launched on Oct. 1, the district had about 36,000 uninsured residents, or roughly 6 percent of its population - one of the lowest rates of uninsured in the country. It’s not clear how many of the newly enrolled people were previously uninsured. Some were forced to buy new insurance plans because carriers no longer offered their old plans under the federal health care overhaul.

Kofman said she believes there are still thousands of district residents who are uninsured and face a tax penalty if they don’t enroll before April 30. Those who enroll during the grace period will have to sign a statement saying they tried to enroll before March 31, but the health exchange has no way of verifying the truth of those statements.

The last-minute enrollees include large number of immigrants and people with limited English skills, Kofman said.


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

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