AP Photo/Eric RisbergIn this photo taken Monday March 31

AP Photo/Eric RisbergIn this photo taken Monday March 31

Final deadline arrives for health exchange sign-up

It's not just tax day. Tuesday also is the two-week extension deadline to sign up for health coverage through California's insurance exchange.

Consumers who were unable to create an account or fill out an application because of technical problems on the Covered California website have until midnight Tuesday to secure a health insurance policy and avoid a tax penalty. The agency offered the extension after its systems were overwhelmed by the number of people trying to sign up before last month's enrollment deadline under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

The exchange was experiencing “periodic slowdowns” on the website but no outages were reported as of Tuesday around noon, according to Covered California spokeswoman Anne Gonzales. She said the average hold time at service centers was 32 minutes.

Covered California plans to release updated figures Thursday. More than 1.2 million people had enrolled before last month's deadline.

Exchange officials have been encouraging people to contact service representatives, enrollment counselors and certified insurance agents to help them complete their application and select a health plan. Enrollees will then have to pay premiums to their insurance companies to be covered starting May 1.

“We recognize that people may not have been able to get through, either by phone or on their computer, to enroll by the March 31 deadline, so we are allowing them to get the help of an assister to cross the finish line,” Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, enrollment continues for Medicaid, the safety net program known as Medi-Cal in California, as well as for people with life-changing events. State officials have said about 1.9 million people were added before the March 31 deadline through the website and other low-income health programs.

“Hundreds of thousands of high school and college seniors will graduate in California — and they may need a place to get covered in their new situation,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said in a statement Tuesday. “Thousands will get married this summer. Many people move, change jobs, or change incomes over the course of the year and Covered California needs to be there to connect them with a health plan as well.”

Under the federal health overhaul, most people will be required to have insurance or face a tax penalty, which starts as little as $95 per year but builds with time. The law is mainly geared to the uninsured and to people who buy coverage directly from insurance companies. Most Americans in employer plans are not expected to see major changes.

Covered California serves as the state's insurance marketplace for buying subsidized and unsubsidized private health plans. It's also the place for low-income people to be steered to Medi-Cal.CaliforniaCalifornia NewsCovered Californiahealthcare

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