- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Nonprofits and advocacy organizations across Oklahoma were making a final push Monday to get people signed up for coverage through the new health insurance law, though website glitches were making the process more time consuming.

The deadline for the open enrollment period is 11 p.m. CDT Monday and a surge in numbers was expected throughout the day. But there were at least two instances when the federal HealthCare.gov website stopped working on Monday.

“It kind of delayed the process a little bit,” said Claudia Barajas, director of Health Services at Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City, when asked about the website’s impact on enrollment.

The website problems mean enrollees were assigned marketplace accounts but will finish the process at a later date.

The Latino Community Development Agency has seen a surge in enrollees in the past three weeks, Barajas said.

Silvia Cruz, 26, came with her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Yaneli Resendiz, 24, to sign up through the Latino agency Monday. Though Resendiz does not need to sign up, she was helping her future sister-in-law, who does not speak English.

“We were told to go online, but we don’t have a computer,” Resendiz said.

Cruz, a housekeeper, didn’t really know a lot about the health insurance offered and hoped she would learn more at the agency, Resendiz said.

At another sign-up event in Oklahoma City, more than 10 people had arrived within the first hour Monday.

Nicole Alexander, outreach and enrollment coordinator with Community Health Centers Inc., said many of the people in the community don’t have access to computers or know how to use them. The hardest part is signing people up for email addresses, she said.

Enrollment numbers show 32,882 Oklahomans have picked plans through March 1. This is well below the Obama administration’s goal of 84,000 enrollees for Oklahoma by Monday night.

In Tulsa, Morton Comprehensive Health Services Inc. has enrolled around 500 residents in the past few months, said Morton official Grace Burke.

Tulsa resident Jim Curry, 55, who works in TV production, was glad when he got his marketplace account Monday because he’s been a diabetic for 31 years and estimates that he’s had to shell out hundreds of dollars each month for insulin, test strips and other supplies because he has no health insurance plan. Under the Affordable Care Act, he can’t be turned away because of his prior condition of diabetes.

“So now it doesn’t matter if you have a pre-existing condition; I’m not going to have to worry,” Curry said.

Denis Ngwanah, 38, came to the U.S. with his family from Cameroon, Africa, to Tulsa about 10 months ago. He works in a warehouse at Goodwill Industries of Tulsa and is supporting a wife and three small children - ages 4, 3 and nearly 2. Ngwanah said he was signing up Monday for a federal health account out of consideration for his young family. He turned to one of the ACA plans because there would be no other way he could afford to buy insurance with his modest salary, he said.

“As a father, when (the children) get sick, what am I going to do? Where am I going to take them?” he said, raising his hands in the air.

Diane Chatman, a 55-year-old Tulsa resident who is a retired correctional officer, had her share of health ailments while she was working and had an insurance plan - including high blood pressure and several knee surgeries. Chatman didn’t want to go without health insurance in case something else happened to her knee.

“When you’re working, you got to have insurance, and even when you don’t work anymore, I think you need to have insurance,” she said Monday.


Juozapavicius reported from Tulsa, Okla.


Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kristieaton .

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