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Originally published: 2014-03-31 12:22:34
Last modified: 2014-03-31 12:35:07

Marketplace enrollment deadline is here

by Anna Oakes

Monday is the deadline for Americans to enroll in a health insurance plan via the Health Insurance Marketplace, and federal officials say that anyone "in line" by that date will be allowed to enroll.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week reported that they were working hard to ensure that can handle the surge of consumers visiting the website in the days leading up the deadline.

"If many consumers come all at once, we've built an advanced queuing system that will allow consumers to leave an email and be invited back when there are fewer customers to be helped or to join our system's virtual waiting room," the agency said in a statement.

"And don't worry, for those consumers who are in line by the March 31 deadline to complete enrollment -- either online or over the phone -- we'll make sure you get covered. We won't close the door on those who tried to get covered and were unable to do so through no fault of their own." 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield's Mobile Enrollment Center will stop at Walmart in Boone from 2-7 p.m. Monday as part of a month-long, statewide tour. Residents can meet face-to-face with company representatives to learn about the Affordable Care Act, the benefits of having health insurance coverage, subsidy eligibility and for assistance in applying for a 2014 plan.

Enrollment numbers appear to be growing at a robust rate in the last month of the enrollment period, which opened on Oct. 1 but got off to a slow start due to glitches. The centers announced Thursday that more than 6 million Americans have signed up for marketplace plans, up from 4 million at the end of February.

The Obama administration's goal is to enroll 7 million by the end of this first enrollment period. The next open enrollment period is proposed to begin Nov. 15, 2014, and end Jan. 15, 2015.

Anyone who has enrolled between March 16 and March 31 will receive coverage beginning May 1.

Federal subsidies to purchase insurance through the marketplace are not available to people who are eligible for affordable coverage offered through an employer or a spouse's plan or to those who fall in the "Medicaid gap" -- people with incomes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, but not eligible for Medicaid. In North Carolina, only low-income children, mothers, seniors and the disabled can receive Medicaid benefits.

The Affordable Care Act provides exemptions to the individual mandate's tax penalty for those who cannot afford health insurance -- but they must apply for the exemption before March 31.

High Country Community Health, the federally qualified health center serving Watauga and Avery counties, received funding to hire several outreach and eligibility specialists to help the public understand the Affordable Care Act and enroll in plans. HCCH specialists have targeted areas such as Watauga Medical Center, Appalachian State University, the Harrill Senior Center and local businesses.