- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - An important health law deadline and the prospect of higher tax penalties for those who remain uninsured prodded some Illinois residents to sign up for coverage this weekend.

Sunday is the final day to enroll in private health insurance coverage for 2015 under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“The deadline is all over everywhere you turn. You can’t avoid it: TV, radio, church, wife, kids, co-workers,” said 44-year-old Ramiro Hernandez, a previously uninsured truck repair shop owner who enrolled himself and his family Saturday in Joliet. He said he heard he’d have to pay a sizeable penalty if he didn’t sign up.

Technical difficulties tied up some applicants Saturday when the electronic income verification system stalled. The Obama administration said anyone affected would be able to enroll.

“They were frustrated, but they were nice about it,” said Miranda Clark, who was helping people sign up in Jacksonville, Illinois. “They can come back tomorrow or call the marketplace or log back into their account and do it on their own.”



At a convention center in Collinsville near St. Louis, organizers said an enrollment event Sunday with 25 in-person assisters would stay open until 10 p.m. In Chicago, weekend enrollment events were scheduled to run until midnight.

“It’s all hands on deck,” said Tracy Kelly of the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, who was driving through snow and sleet Saturday to monitor enrollment activities at libraries and churches. “A lot of people are recognizing there is a deadline and coming on in, even with the weather.”

More than 305,000 Illinois residents have selected a private plan or been automatically reenrolled as of Feb. 6, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Illinois is one of 37 states that rely on the HealthCare.gov platform to enroll residents and check their eligibility for financial assistance.

Ryan Foster, who signed up last weekend for a medical and dental plan that will cost him $192 a month, described the process as “very easy.” The 41-year-old suburban Chicago chiropractor had been without insurance briefly after canceling a policy he could no longer afford.

“This is cheaper and better coverage,” Foster said.

The health law offers subsidized private coverage to people who aren’t covered through work. It requires most people to have insurance or pay a tax penalty.

“Nobody wants to get hit with the penalty of $325 or 2 percent of income” for being uninsured in 2015, said Audrey Carl of Enroll America, who was working at an enrollment event at a Chicago hospital.

A Get Covered Illinois help desk had been fielding nearly 5,000 calls daily in the week leading up to the deadline, organizers said. Hours were extended this weekend.

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Online: https://getcoveredillinois.gov/

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