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Deadline brings crush of Indiana health coverage applicants

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Indiana health care coverage applicants flooded advocates Monday with requests for help on the final day for enrolling in plans under the federal health overhaul.

Lucinda Nord of the Indiana Association of United Ways tracked enrollment throughout the day. She said many federal coverage navigators who usually join her on a weekly call couldn't do so Monday because they were too busy with clients. In New Albany, two navigators reported having 65 people show up to an enrollment event last week.

"It just seems like everybody is overwhelmed and has been for the last few weeks," she said.

Indiana is among many states that decided to use the federal exchange rather than set up a state-specific one.

The federal health insurance website, which had a problem-plagued launch, also experienced some outages and glitches on the last day.

"If you happen to be in the middle of something or just starting, it really wrecks that process for you," Nord said.

People who start an application by the 11:59 p.m. EDT deadline Monday can enroll for this year in the insurance exchanges, and won't face fines or penalties on their 2014 taxes.

The last-minute flood of applicants in Indiana mirrored national trends as people sought to at least start the process Monday. The federal government gave broad leeway to anyone who can show they at least started the process online, over the phone or with a navigator by Monday.

In other cases, residents who have "qualifying life events," such as moving to a new state, having a baby or being the victim of a natural disaster, were exempted from Monday's deadline.

Indiana's enrollment target, set by the federal government, was 100,000 residents enrolled by the end of February. The state said 65,000 residents had secured plans by then, the latest available enrollment data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The bigger question for many of Indiana's poorer residents is what will happen with the state-run Healthy Indiana Plan. Gov. Mike Pence submitted a request to the CMS seeking to use the state-run program in place of a traditional Medicaid expansion.

Indiana is among many Republican-led states that did not expand Medicaid through the federal law, but Pence has sought to use the state-run plan as an alternative. Pence broke from the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., last month to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the program. But the state is still waiting on an answer to its request.

"We continue to have regular, productive discussions with HHS on an expansion of the Healthy Indiana Plan with an eye toward an updated waiver request by the State in the near future," Pence communications director Christy Denault said Monday.

Meanwhile, the state secured a one-year extension of the program in part by altering the eligibility requirements. Residents earning just above 100 percent of the federal poverty level were moved from the plan to the federal exchange. As of two weeks ago, 36,500 were enrolled in the state-run plan.

Nord said Monday it was too early to say exactly how many residents would qualify for the "special enrollment period" that extends past Monday's deadline. But she pointed out that many advocates would continue holding events through April to help residents who did not complete their applications Monday.

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