HealthCare.gov problems on deadline day

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Monday was the last day to start signing up for health care under the Affordable Care Act — and the site’s history of problems was again at the forefront.

Many saw glitches on the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange as last-minute shoppers logged in to create a new account.

Region three lead navigator Michelle Fitzgerald has been helping people sign up for health care on the government’s website since it launched. She admitted she saw problems on the last day, especially earlier in the day. She attributed most of them to a volume problem, saying the longest she had to wait to help someone sign up was about 40 minutes.

She said until the last day, the site has been working well since December.

“For many people, I would suggest to keep trying because it seems to be at this point it may be a volume issue,” Fitzgerald said.

Monday, Sixto Gonzalez and his wife Sidronia Maldonado headed to Cherry Street Health Services in Grand Rapids to get help signing up. They said they didn’t mean to wait until the eleventh hour. But they don’t speak English very well and said they were never able to speak to a real person on the phone on the Spanish helpline.

Sidronia Maldonado signs up for the Affordable Care Act at Cherry Street Health Services. (March 31, 2014)
(Sidronia Maldonado signs up for the Affordable Care Act at Cherry Street Health Services. March 31, 2014)

Fitzgerald said that in her experience, people who speak Spanish did have to wait much longer to speak to a representative than English-speakers. She said if the people she was helping sign up had a question, she would actually call the English language helpline and translate for the people she was helping at Cherry Street.

Monday, 24 Hour News 8 called the help line dozens of times, and went through the prompts in both English and Spanish. In at least a third of the calls, this message was the answer:

“We’re sorry, but due to extremely high call volume, all of our customer service representatives are currently busy,” the message said. “Please call back later in the day or during the weekend. Again, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. Goodbye.

The other two-thirds of the calls directed 24 Hour News 8 to leave a message with a phone number and said someone would call back sometime after Tuesday.

At this point, Fitzgerald said, that’s the best thing to do if you can’t get through. You should document with the federal helpline at 1.800.318.2596 that you tried to sign up so you can qualify for an extension until April 15.

So will the same problems pop up again when that extension deadline rolls around?

“My suggestion would be … you may have a two-week window: Don’t wait until the 15th to enroll,” Fitzgerald said.

Signup for the state’s Medicaid expansion starts April 1. People can qualify for expanded Medicaid service (called Healthy Michigan in our state) if they make up to 133% of the federal poverty level. For an individual, that’s about $15,500 per year. For a family of four, it’s about $32,000.

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Online:

Poverty level charts (pdf)

Sign up for the Medicaid expansion

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