Health coverage takes effect amid high demand - News, Weather and Classifieds for Southern New England

Health coverage takes effect amid high demand

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PROVIDENCE -

Health coverage is taking effect for thousands of Rhode Islanders who enrolled through the state's new insurance marketplace, amid long wait times for some and other problems that slowed enrollment before the first key sign-up deadline.

Individuals and families had until the end of the day Tuesday to enroll through HealthSource RI for coverage beginning Wednesday. About 9,800 people had signed up from Oct. 1 through Dec. 28 for commercial plans offered in the marketplace. It was not immediately clear how many of them were previously uninsured.

Payments must be made by Jan. 6 for the coverage to remain in effect.

HealthSource RI Director Christine Ferguson said this week that "exceptionally high" call volumes and high walk-in traffic at the customer service center in Providence were stretching the agency's ability to enroll people ahead of the first deadline.

Ferguson said there have also been issues with identification and income verification that have made the enrollment process "time-consuming and frustrating."

Most Americans are required to have insurance as of Wednesday under President Barack Obama's health care law, or face fines. But there is a grace period, so anyone who signs up before March 31 won't have to pay.

HealthSource spokeswoman Dara Chadwick attributed some of the problems to the federal data hub. In other cases, the state's system has had trouble handling the volume. She said some people have been forced to wait for up to an hour in person or on the phone.

The telephone wait time just after noon on Tuesday was under 10 minutes.

Chadwick said some bumps and glitches are inevitable.

The rollout of the federally run marketplaces has been plagued by problems; the healthcare.gov website needed myriad fixes before people could successfully enroll. Ferguson said recently that the botched federal effort has been "somewhat devastating" for Rhode Island, where the state-run marketplace has operated much more smoothly.

Open enrollment continues through March 31. Coverage will begin on Feb. 1 for anyone who enrolls in a plan and pays by Jan. 23.

HealthSource RI estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 people will use the marketplace through the end of 2014. Rhode Island has had about 120,000 uninsured residents in a population of just over 1 million.

Some may enroll in Medicaid under expanded eligibility.

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