- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Advocates and insurers are experiencing a surge of inquiries across Michigan as the deadline approaches to sign up for insurance under the federal health care law.

People who start an application by midnight Eastern Daylight Time on Monday can enroll for this year in the insurance exchanges created under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Enroll Michigan marketing coordinator Kelsey Maccombs said the group has received “a flood of calls.”

“We’re seeing still just a spike in amount of people coming in looking for information, resources, wanting to know what they need to do before tonight’s deadline,” said Erin Knott, Michigan director for Enroll America.

The federal health insurance website, which had a problem-plagued launch, also experienced some outages on the last day, but U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials attributed to a software bug unrelated to application volume.

“We’ve heard of a couple instances where (people being unable to access the website) was the case, but upon reloading or opening in a different browser, it hasn’t been an issue,” Maccombs said.

Telephone wait times were less than 2 minutes Monday morning for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, but officials there expected that to increase to 10 minutes this evening after people get home from work. The insurer has 400 agents taking calls in the state and most of them will work until midnight, according to Terry Burke, vice president of individual markets.

In-person enrollment events are also scheduled across the state, including at the Detroit Fire Department, Flint City Hall and Planned Parenthood in Detroit. Demand for one-on-one assistance has “quadrupled in the last month,” said Dani Vilella, Planned Parenthood field organizer for West Michigan.

“We take a lot of pride in that people are getting covered, are getting the help they need. But at the same time, it’s stressful that it’s coming down to the last minute,” Maccombs said.

About 145,000 Michigan residents had enrolled in private insurance plans by early March. The figures released through the Health and Human Services Department also showed roughly 314,000 people in the state had completed an application and were eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan. Final enrollment numbers are not expected for weeks.

An Associated Press analysis of state-by-state enrollment numbers showed that Michigan is among 13 states that have been running ahead of their enrollment targets. As of Thursday, 6 million people had signed up nationally.

It was unclear how many people who have signed up have closed the deal by paying their first month’s premium.

Also unknown was how many were previously uninsured. Marti Lolli, director of health care reform at Priority Health, estimated that only a quarter of Michigan residents who have enrolled previously were uninsured.

Michigan’s federally controlled insurance website allows consumers to compare and buy insurance. It’s a key element of the health law along with an expansion of Medicaid to more low-income adults, which begins Tuesday in Michigan.

People risk being fined for not having health insurance starting in April.


Follow Emma Fidel at https://twitter.com/emmafidel

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