NASHVILLE — Tennessee health care volunteers and insurers were flooded Monday with a last-minute surge of consumers hoping to sign up for health coverage by deadline.
For some, it was a day of waiting and frustration because the federal government's website for choosing a health plan ground to a halt under the demand of people seeking coverage by the deadline. For others who had been locked out of insurance because of the high cost or a pre-existing condition, the delay was not so bad.
The state's largest health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, reported a surge of phone calls to its call center.
"We have seen 127 percent call volume increase," Mary Danielson, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield, said in an email to The Associated Press. By 2:45 p.m. E.S.T., the insurance company had received 1,857 phone calls compared to 817 calls on the previous Monday, she said.
Certified assisters who help people sign up for coverage were seeing a rising demand for help enrolling, but officials had planned on a last-minute crush of requests, said Teri Woodmore, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Primary Care Association.
Federal figures show that between Oct. 1 and March 1 there were 77, 867 Tennesseans enrolled in insurance through healthcare.gov.
Under the Affordable Care Act, nearly every American is required to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Federal officials set a deadline of March 31 for open enrollment to get health insurance, but they have said that anyone who started the process but was not able to get enrolled because of technical glitches will have a little extra time.
Jamie Groves says he's been trying to get insurance through healthcare.gov since late November or early December and has even gone so far as to pick a plan on the website. But the 19-year-old says he's been blocked form enrolling because the website has not been able to verify his identity. Groves, who lives in Cottontown and works at plant that makes and inspects auto parts, made the trek down to Nashville with his retired father hoping that a volunteer at the public library could help him finally get enrolled.
"When you're being sent in circles over and over because of a computer error, it is frustrating," Jamie Groves said. His father, John Groves, said it was important that his son get enrolled.
"One small accident or sickness can bankrupt a person," John Groves said. He said his son already has health insurance, but the plan that Jamie Groves selected but has been prevented from enrolling in on the federal website offers more coverage and costs about a fourth of his current plan.
Jamie Groves wound up leaving the library without enrolling because the federal website was too busy, the father and son said. Volunteers told him that he would get an extension of time.
At times, a line of people snaked outside a room on the second floor of the main public library in Nashville where volunteers were helping people get enrolled.
Kimala Petty, a 53-year-old health-care worker was hoping to be able to get covered. She too said she'd left without getting enrolled because the website was too busy. She said she was stunned by the cost of $280 per month. "You want to comply with the law, but the cost makes it hard," Petty said. "Is it affordable? No, it's not."
Cynthia Hellard, a 54-year-old day laborer who said she has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fibromyalgia, wasn't able to sign up either. But she was willing to wait for insurance that was affordable and would no longer hold her pre-existing health conditions against her. She said an insurance company once told her she would have to pay $1,800 a month because of all her medical conditions.
"I don't mind paying for it; I just want something I can afford," Hellard said of insurance. She said she'd try again later to enroll.