Take a number and be prepared to wait about two hours.
That was a typical greeting Monday at the Affordable Health Care Act sign-up event at the Toledo Lucas-County Public Library as a surge of people attempted to get coverage on the last official day.
PHOTO GALLERY: deadline for government healthcare
Nearly 400 people arrived to get help at the Main Library in downtown Toledo from one of 13 health-care “navigators,” but some were turned away at the day’s end as efforts to enroll people in private health insurance under so-called Obamacare were hindered when its Web site became strained beyond capacity.
Brad Clark, director of the Neighborhood Health Association navigator program, said he stopped handing out numbers about 6:30 p.m. Officials had assisted more than 300 people and 30 more were waiting. With the library closing at 8:30 p.m., officials asked the navigators to shut down no later than 7:45 p.m., he said.
“That's the hard part, telling people we can’t help them tonight," Mr. Clark said.
Latecomers were given information about the healthcare.gov Web site and the federal 800 telephone line and told to try to at least get accounts established before midnight.
The official deadline had been midnight Sunday, but the Obama Administration announced last week that those who at least began the enrollment process by Monday would be given until mid-April to complete the process without penalty.
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Web site experienced record volume on Monday -- 1.2 million visits through noon, and more than 100,000 people nationwide were logged in to the system at once about noon.
The health-care navigators in Toledo said that’s also the time they started experiencing problems.
A hiccup in early afternoon temporarily kept applicants from signing up. And then things slowed further. Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched in the fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers said it still runs slowly.
The site started working sporadically about 2 p.m., Mr. Clark said, and when the navigators turned to the federal toll-free phone number as a backup, that appeared to be overloaded too.
Callers were put into a queue and told to leave call-back numbers through which someone would contact them later this week. By about 5 p.m., however, the Web site was working well with few problems, Mr. Clark said.
People were already lined up at 10 a.m. when the navigators arrived at the library an hour before the event started to set up. By 2 p.m., the waiting and overflow seating areas were packed.
Toledo resident Marcus Ashford, 24 , was one of the procrastinators. He had drawn No. 162 and about 50 people were still ahead of him, so he found an open computer in another library department and started the process.
Mr. Ashford, who has been working for a temporary employment agency while trying to save money to start his own business, said he has been living without health insurance for about six years.
“I still go to the hospital. I go to the emergency room if I feel like something is wrong or if I have any concerns,” he said.
He was able to get through to the Web site to start his account, then he came back to the line to wait for a navigator.
Mr. Ashford said he wasn’t sure why he waited until the last day, except that his enthusiasm to sign up had been dampened by concerns about the program. He said he finally went in because “It’s the law and everyone has to have it.”
Dan and Melinda Sauvey of East Toledo arrived at the event about 6:30, but they were told it was too late to get an appointment with a navigator.
Mr. Sauvey, 57, who lost his job as a truck driver when he was diagnosed with cancer about four months ago, said he waited until the last minute to sign up because he has been struggling the idea of getting “sucked into the system.”
“It makes you feel like you don’t deserve help,” he said.
The Sauveys left the library, heading home to try to sign up on their own before the deadline.
The Obama Administration is also offering special extensions to make up for all sorts of problems that might have kept people from getting enrolled on time, such as natural disasters, domestic abuse, Web-site malfunctions, insurance-company errors, and even mistakes by application counselors.
To seek a special enrollment period, contact the federal call center at 1-800-318-2596, and explain what happened. It’s on the honor system. If the extension is approved, the applicant gets 60 additional days to enroll.
For those who didn’t finish their enrollment today, navigators still will be available to help, Mr. Clark said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.