NEW YORK—Residents across the state were unable to sign up for coverage on New York’s health insurance marketplace website on Oct. 1, the first day of open enrollment.
The State Department of Health said that too much Web traffic had overloaded the website, and people were not able to create accounts to buy health insurance or enroll in health plans.
People who traveled to in-person assistants (or navigators) were also unable to sign up, since the assistants use the same website.
The State Department of Health said the site received 10 million visits by 5 p.m. The tech problems persisted throughout the day.
Marci Natale, deputy director of the public affairs group for New York State Department of Health, said technicians have been actively working to fix the website’s issues.
The in-person assistants at the Community Service Society of New York (CCSNY) in Midtown were unable to enroll anyone and only provided customers with estimates for their insurance premiums.
Seven clients had scheduled appointments with the organization for Tuesday. One of them, 61-year-old Madeline Aviles, traveled from her home in the Bronx to enroll in an affordable health plan.
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Aviles lost her job at a local hospital in January and with it a good health insurance plan. She signed up to continue her coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), which mandates that employees may continue their employer-provided insurance coverage after leaving a job.
Aviles has osteoarthritis in her hands and paid $650 a month for COBRA coverage.
“I tried to keep it up for a little bit, but it was totally too much for me with my unemployment income, which was about $1,400 a month,” Aviles said.
After two months she pulled out of COBRA, and has been looking into other options that fit with her budget.
“I have very, very little mobility in my wrist. I need a doctor to help me. I can’t keep self-medicating myself anymore,” Aviles said.
Despite being disappointed that she could not buy into a health plan Tuesday, Aviles was excited to hear that she would likely pay only about $90 a month under the Affordable Care Act.
The plan would mean that if Aviles had to see a doctor she would pay a $35 co-payment, and a physical therapy session might cost her $15.
She was most excited about her co-payment in case of a surgery. According to the estimate she was given, she would likely pay only $250 for diagnostics, hospital stay, and the surgery.
“I was already excited before I came,” she said. “Today was the first day for signing up, and I wanted to be the first one here. So here I am.”
CCSNY has subcontracted 39 community partners in 61 counties across the state to help individuals and small businesses sign up for health plans and access tax credits through the marketplace.
“People want to meet with someone to talk to someone who is fair and neutral who can talk you through your options,” Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at CCSNY, said.
CCSNY received a $5 million state grant to provide in-person enrollment assistance.
“I have spent my professional life trying to help people access health coverage or get health care,” Benjamin said. “This is the dream of my professional life.”
The open enrollment period started Oct. 1 and runs through to March 31, 2014. The health plans come into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
To enroll online, visit www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov.
To make an appointment with one of the five navigators at the Community Service Society on East 22nd Street in Manhattan call 888-614-5400, or send an email to [email protected]
The phone number for the New York State of Health call center is 855-355-5777. The center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
People who earn less than $45,960 a year, and a family of four that earns less than $94,200, may be eligible for federal tax credits to reduce insurance premium payments.