- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont Health Connect used social media to urge procrastinators to sign up ahead of Monday night’s deadline to enroll in health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, while acknowledging technical problems that led to a rocky start to the program.

“Today is the last day to sign up for a private health plan. Don’t wait,” one Twitter post from the state organization set up to enroll people in health insurance said Monday morning.

Emilly Yahr, spokeswoman for Vermont Health Connect, said the organization would continue working with anyone who ran into technical problems while trying to enroll before Monday night’s deadline.

As of Monday morning, 46,800 individuals had enrolled to be covered with private insurance either from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont or MVP Health Care. An additional 30,000 to 40,000 people were enrolled through their employers, Yahr said. The federal target enrollment was 56,000 by Monday.

At the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, chamber President Betsey Bishop said the group’s work throughout the past six months to get its business members enrolled appeared to be paying off with no rush at the end.

“It’s pretty quiet today. We’ve only had one walk-in so far and that person had already begun the enrollment process and just needed help completing that,” Bishop said.

Vermont Health Connect officials were reporting high call volume as the midnight deadline for individuals to enroll approached.

And at the Barre office of the Central Vermont Community Action social services agency, health care navigator Sandra Singer said she was not expecting to have time for a lunch break. “It’s been very busy,” she said.

Singer said she was generally pleased with the progress Vermont Health Connect has made since the website launched Oct. 1 amid complaints about slowness, an inability to process payments from enrollees or allow people to report job loss or move or other changes of circumstance.

She said she was more concerned about people she’s spoken with who have decided premiums, copays and deductibles required for enrolment are unaffordable and who are choosing to go without. Those people are required to pay annual penalties of $95 per adult in the household and $47.50 per child. Monthly premiums are often in the hundreds of dollars.

“They’ve made a conscious choice to be uninsured and to take the penalty at the end of the year,” Singer said. “They’ve decided they cannot afford the premium and also the product they could buy with it,” including out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance, she said.

Monday was the deadline for individuals to enroll; those participating through their employers are on a calendar that coincides with the employer’s annual signup dates, Yahr said.

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