Affordable Care Act interest surges in La. at deadline

Website problems complicate late enrollments for coverage

A surge in last-hour interest and problems with the healthcare.gov website slowed the process of signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act in Louisiana.

Website problems led staffers at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, which serves the Vietnamese community in eastern new Orleans, to start using the telephone to sign up applicants.

That, too, proved to be time-consuming, often involving translation for clients not fluent in English.

Tinh Bui, one of four staffers involved in the signup effort, said website troubles prompted the staff to sign up applicants by telephone last week and Monday.

“In difficult cases, the operator can’t help you, so they have to transfer you to the specialist,” said Bui, one of four staffers signing up applicants at the corporation’s offices, where a dozen people were waiting their turn.

“It’ll take up to, like, one hour to two hours,” he said.

Efforts to keep interest high were evident throughout last week and into Monday.

Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover said navigators there were booked with appointments through the final hours. Sign-up events were scheduled Monday afternoon in Carencro and Monroe.

Betty Cooper, a volunteer at the Monroe event, said the program is aimed at helping people who aren’t tech-savvy or aren’t used to dealing with the insurance industry. “Some of them need to talk to calm them down,” Cooper said. “This is a big something that they’re about to do.”

Roanita Jenkins, an independent insurance agent in Monroe, said interest definitely increased in the final enrollment days.

“If it gives you any indication, Saturday, I worked from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night. Today, I had over 100 calls,” she said. “I have appointments scheduled until 11 o’clock tonight.”

Louisiana, which did not set up its own health care exchange, had 45,561 people enrolled in the federal marketplace plan as of March 1. Of that number, only 29 percent were in the 18 to 34 age bracket. It’s a group considered necessary to help make the plan work because the group is relatively healthy.

Brian Burton, program director of the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, one of the “navigator” agencies working to help people sign up, said efforts included outreach to universities and trade schools.

Jenkins said she saw an increase in the number of young people signing up. But statistics weren’t available Monday and Burton said it is too soon to tell how successful the efforts to sign up the so-called “young invincibles” have been.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of a large group of House conservatives called the Republican Study Committee, said, “Judgment day has arrived for President (Barack) Obama’s health care law, and yet the self-proclaimed ‘most transparent administration’ still hasn’t released figures to the public showing how many enrollees have actually made a premium payment or were previously uninsured,” Scalise said.

Each of more than 20 delays “is a tacit admission that the president’s health care law is unworkable while failing to deliver on the promises that were made to help get it passed,” he wrote in a news release.