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Health care site suffers overload

Hospitals offer computers, staff to help folks sign up

— When online enrollment began Tuesday for health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act, people locally and across the country reported overloaded websites and failed attempts to sign up.

The state’s health exchange site, wahealthplanfinder.org, was overhelmed and went down for a time.

“On Monday we tried all day to get on the site and were having difficulties,” said North Valley Hospital Business Development Coordinator Terri Orford said.

More than 100,000 people tried to log onto the wahealthplanfinder.org site at one time, which is responsible for the outage. The Washington Health Benefit Exchange office counted 170,487 page views, 6,385 accounts created and 6,199 calls to the customer support center on Oct. 1.

“While some people experienced slow online loading times, many contracted community organizations throughout the state were able to meet with individuals in person and facilitate enrollment through the use of paper applications,” the exchange office said.

“We may have had some expected initial bumps in the road, but this is only the beginning,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Onizuka said.

Residents have until Dec. 23, 2013, to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2014.

Chronicle reader Rachel Smith of Spokane was among those who couldn’t get the website to work when she tried to sign up, while Mary Smith of Okanogan said she wouldn’t be able to get help at all. On the Chronicle Facebook page, she called for the impeachment of President Obama.

“Nope I don’t have a job because of the economy is so poor. So I can’t afford Obamacare either,” she wrote.

The Affordable Care Act has expanded current benefits like Medicaid to qualify more low-income people for health coverage. A family of four earning less than $94,200 per year can get either free insurance or tax credit, according to the exchange.

“Too many people in our area are living without health insurance, which puts their health and their finances at serious risk,” North Valley Hospital Chief Executive Officer Linda Michel said. “We have been working in the community to help raise people’s awareness of the new coverage options, and we’ve also been working with staff to help hospital visitors get more information and get enrolled.”

The hospital, 203 Western Ave., has set up a computer in its lobby so residents can sign up for insurance and ask questions of trained hospital staff. There is also a phone programmed to dial the Healthplanfinder hotline.

Starting next week, the hospital plans to do community outreach at local grocery stores and schools.

“Although there is a lot of political noise about Obamacare being repealed, we have been instructed by the Washington State Hospital Association to proceed as normal,” Orford said. “The Affordable Care Act is law and we are moving forward with outreach.”

Coulee Medical Center, 411 Fortuyn Road in Grand Coulee, is encouraging residents to schedule appointments for help with enrollment.

Orford also warned people to beware of scam websites that have been designed to look like the state’s website.

“We are being told that Washington Healthplanfinder will under no circumstances be asking for Social Security numbers, or banking information,” she said.

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