BALTIMORE (AP) — A health care enrollment fair on Saturday drew hundreds of Maryland residents who lined up and waited to beat Monday's midnight deadline to enroll in a health care plan.
People said they generally waited about an hour at the Baltimore Convention Center before sitting down with a navigator to help guide them through the process. Several said it then took between 15 and 30 minutes to enroll.
LaVerne Henson, a 49-year-old Baltimore resident who hasn't had health insurance since 2009, said she decided to take advantage of the in-person help after trying six frustrating times to enroll herself through the state's troubled online exchange website.
"Coming here, we had no problem," Henson said. "We went straight through it in less than 20 minutes."
Amber LeSane, 33, said she had had trouble understanding how different health care plans worked when she used the website, and she wanted to meet with someone to get more information about deductions and tax credits. After waiting an hour to see a navigator, LeSane said she enrolled in a plan in 30 minutes.
"It was actually pretty good," LeSane, of Randallstown, said. "The wait time wasn't as long as I expected, and the navigator was very friendly, very helpful, so it was overall a good experience."
Organizers reported a steady stream of people attending.
"Very easily we'll see 500 today," said Kathleen Westcoat, CEO of HealthCare Access Maryland.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., spoke to a roomful of people who were sitting down with 33 navigators. He implored them to tell friends and neighbors who don't have health insurance to enroll by the deadline.
"I am not asking you to talk to them. I am begging you to," Cummings said.
Karen Snead, a 50-year-old Baltimore resident who enrolled, said she would do just that.
"I'm going to pass the word on to all the people I know that don't," Snead said.
Maryland residents can continue to get help in person at a variety of locations across the state on Monday. Locations and hours of operation can be found on the Maryland Health Connection website at www.marylandhealthconnection.gov
The state's health exchange board has adopted a plan to help people who have tried to enroll before the deadline at the end of the month but were unable to complete an application. Consumers will be able to let the exchange know that they have started an application but have been unable to finish it. State residents who call by March 31 will get a call and special assistance for enrollment for coverage that begins May 1.
Maryland is one of 14 states that created its own health care exchange, which crashed on the day it debuted Oct. 1 and continues to have serious problems. The last-minute signups come as state officials have been thinking about whether to adopt another state's exchange technology, move to the federal exchange or make more fixes to the state's exchange. Gov. Martin O'Malley said Friday an announcement on how the state will proceed will be made in the coming days.
A meeting of the state's health exchange board, which would make the decision, is scheduled for Tuesday. One potential solution that has been discussed for weeks is to adapt the Connecticut health exchange system for Maryland for qualified health plans.
Sen. Ben Cardin, who greeted residents at the enrollment fair, said he believed it would be the right time to reconsider a new platform after the first signup period ends Monday.
"That's what I think the state is considering, a new platform where we can get better service — not only to those who want to enroll but those who are currently enrolled, because this is a continuing process," Cardin said. "So we want to have a very friendly consumer platform, so you can go on the Internet at any time, get the information you need, change things if you have to, enroll if you haven't already, so I think the state recognizes that it made a mistake. It's now correcting it."
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