COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Health care advocates in Ohio took last-minute phone calls and met one-on-one with individuals trying to obtain health insurance Monday, the deadline to sign up under President Barack Obama's law.
People who start an application before midnight can enroll in subsidized private coverage through the exchanges created by the federal law.
Ohio is among the 36 states using the federal website, HealthCare.gov, to enroll people. The site fell out of service for nearly four hours early Monday and experienced technical problems.
Many people won't be able to get subsidized coverage this year after Monday's deadline. However, some consumers could be eligible for extensions, including people who had begun enrolling by the deadline but didn't finish. Under the law, those who go without health insurance can be fined $95 or about 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher.
Advocates and counselors made their final push to get people signed up at events over the weekend and Monday at libraries, churches, health centers and other facilities.
Phone calls came in at a steady pace to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks on Monday in Columbus, where six counselors called navigators were helping to guide callers through the enrollment process.
"There's a general sense of more immediacy," said Jessica May, the navigator coordinator. "We are just trying everything we can to make sure that people understand that this is the day."
May said she had taken six calls before noon — with many conversations lasting close to an hour. Callers either misunderstood a question in their application or were stuck in the system trying to get to the point where they could shop and compare health plans.
Almost 79,000 Ohioans have picked plans through the exchange from Oct. 1 through March 1, according to the latest enrollment figures from the Obama administration.
That's far short of the 152,000 Ohioans that the government projected would be signed up by the end of February. The state target set by Obama's administration for the entire enrollment period is 190,000 residents.
The federal data show that many Ohioans obtaining coverage in the marketplace are older. Just 21 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. Most enrollees also are getting financial help to pay their monthly premiums. And of those who have picked plans, 56 percent are women.