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Eric Schneider and certified enrollment specialist Dick VerEecke are hosting information sessions at the Watauga County Public Library this month to assist locals seeking insurance. Reserve a spot in the sessions by calling the library Reference Desk at (828) 264-8784 ext. 2.

The sessions are scheduled for:

-- Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.

-- Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

-- Dec. 21 at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a photo ID, Social Security card for each household member and their most recent tax return.

High Country residents also may schedule an individual appointment with Eric Schneider by calling (828) 773-7297 or emailing, or with VerEecke by calling the library at (828) 264-8784 ext. 2.

Avery County residents also may call Dory Trimble at (828) 773-2471.

Originally published: 2013-12-06 12:38:34
Last modified: 2013-12-06 12:41:27

Obamacare website relaunches

The website central to President Barack Obama's signature health care law re-launched this week with better success than before.

The administration promised fixes by Nov. 30 after the disastrous launch in October of, the website where North Carolinians and others across the nation can compare and purchase health insurance.

About 29,000 people signed up for insurance through the site on Sunday and Monday, more than the total number that signed up in the entire month of October, national news sources reported.

Eric Schneider, an outreach and eligibility specialist assisting High Country residents, said he had been much more successful with the website in the last two weeks.

"Last month, I'd say about half my appointments ended in the website crashing or glitching up," he said. "Now ... most of the time I'm able to get an eligibility determination in about 30 minutes to an hour."

The Obama administration announced this weekend that it had completed about 400 of the 600 fixes on its "punch card" and that the site could now handle up to 50,000 users at once.

Schneider, who uses the website daily, said it still has some flaws, including occasional lag time. A new queue system is intended to help alleviate traffic delays on the site.

"It's one of those things where I can see that it's not perfect, but I also dealt with it when it was unusable, and now it is something that I could confidently refer people to," he said.

Watauga Democrat was able to create a test account successfully Monday after several failed attempts in October due to password issues.

Meanwhile, pundits continue to argue about the merits of the law, aside from the logistics.

In a statement released Nov. 14, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of Foscoe said only full repeal would solve "the underlying chaos Obamacare is causing."

"Can this tragically-flawed law hold any more Band-Aids?" she said. "Waivers for this group, delays for that group, temporary 'fixes' to mask the gravity of Obamacare's most grievous features. The president is now trying to repackage his broken law. It's not working."

In a press conference Wednesday, Obama fired back at Republicans who have cited the poor website rollout as cause to repeal the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"We're not repealing it as long as I'm president," Obama said. "We will make it work for all Americans. If you don't like this law ... you've got to tell us specifically what you'd do to cut costs. You can't just say that the system was working with 41 million people without health insurance."

Obama continued: "Our poor execution in the first couple of months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit."

Locally, Schneider said he was seeing mixed reactions from people applying for coverage.

"It's all over the place. It's no one set reaction," Schneider said. "I've seen pretty much every reaction from elation to a few tears and some pretty huge disappointment."

About a third of the people he's assisted have fallen into the "Medicaid gap," where they make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to receive federal subsidies to purchase coverage, Schneider said.

Others are thrilled to get whopping subsidies to help with their health insurance expenses.

"The most I've seen so far for an individual was someone that was in their late 50s, and they were getting about $8,500 a year to pay for the insurance," Schneider said.

As an apolitical and unbiased assistant, Schneider said he's also helping to tackle confusion from those who simply don't understand the changes.

He said he's had requests for help from a range of people, including people with disabilities or on Social Security, young people working fluctuating hours resulting in unsteady incomes, and people who are plenty web-savvy but want reinforcement.

"I'm kind of playing a role where I'm either a guiding hand or I'm actually bridging a technology gap," said Schneider, who said he had been surprised by the number of email accounts he has had to create for residents. The site requires an email address to register.

The federally run site handles enrollments for 36 states, including North Carolina. The 14 other states and Washington, D.C., have created their own exchanges.

Anyone who wants to get insurance coverage starting Jan. 1 must apply by Dec. 23. Enrollment continues through March 31, 2014.