- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Health insurers and enrollment counselors reported a surge in activity from North Dakota residents who raced against a Monday deadline to enroll for coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“Last week was very busy, fast and furious,” said Neil Scharpe, who is in charge of North Dakota’s 15 so-called navigators - people who find uninsured residents and help them with their options. “All navigators indicated there was a rush to the finish.”

The spring blizzard closed one insurer’s offices in Dickinson and Bismarck, but it said residents could call in and get signed up.

The six-month enrollment period through the federal online marketplace was to end at 11 p.m. CDT Monday. North Dakota and 35 other states are allowing the federal government to run the insurance marketplaces, where people can compare coverage and prices.

The Obama administration’s HealthCare.gov website suffered glitches Monday. People who don’t have health insurance by April 1 could potentially face federal fines. Those who start applications but don’t finish them by midnight will be given extra time.

The latest federal enrollment numbers through March 1 showed that about 5,200 North Dakota residents have picked private plans through the so-called exchanges; the number represents about half of the number of people who have completed an application.

The Obama administration had hoped to enroll 8,800 in the state through February.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, which is the state’s dominant insurer and one of three offering policies through the marketplaces, was seeing an increase in traffic and telephone calls Monday ahead of the deadline, spokeswoman Andrea Dinneen said.

“We are getting more calls than we normally do from people wondering what their options are,” she said.

The other companies selling insurance in the state on the marketplace are Sanford Health Plan and Medica.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has offices across the state, closed its facilities in Dickinson and Bismarck because of a spring snowstorm. The insurer “still had plenty of resources online and our telephone lines remained open,” Dinneen said.

Scharpe said the blizzard, which also shut down schools and government offices, would not have much of an impact on enrollment because no major events were planned as a last-ditch effort.

North Dakota, like many GOP states, did not contribute monetarily to the marketing campaigning. State officials said helped get the word out on the new law by working with other agencies and organizations.

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