The midnight deadline for the Affordable Care Act sign up is looming, and those last minute stragglers waiting to get health insurance through the online marketplace, healthcare.gov, are dealing with issues beyond their control.
While millions waited to get online and get going on their applications Monday morning, most East Texans were faced with a new dilemma: a downed web site.
"Healthcare.gov has a lot of visitors right now. We need to wait here so we can make sure there's room for you to have a good experience on our site," said Debra O'Neill, the outreach coordinator for East Texas Community Health Services, Inc. in Nacogdoches.
That's the message many folks were greeted with once they logged onto the marketplace--a frustrating sign of difficult times ahead.
"We just recently started having problems with the web site. Today's really been the first day that it's been almost impossible to get into the web site," O'Neill says.
About 200 people showed up to the East Texas Community Health Services offices just last week, says O'Neill, but Monday's crowd was a little steadier. While midnight is the technical deadline for the applications, O'Neill says there are exceptions.
"If you're in line, if you started an application on the healthcare.gov web site, or made a phone call to the call center and got through—they're going to allow those a grace period," O'Neill says.
Meaning those who have already begun the process, or mailed off a paper application will be granted an extension until April 15th.
She also says those who were unable to sign up today have a last minute resort.
"Paper applications, they are accepting through April 7th so you still have a little bit of time to fill out the paper application and mail it in," O'Neill says.
20-year-old Stephen F. Austin University student Javon Thompson says she stopped by the office hoping to get good news, but was greeted with a big surprise.
"Well, I actually found out that I won't be eligible to use it because I don't make enough [money]," Thompson said.
As an unemployed independent, Thompson makes less than $11,490, which is the federal poverty guideline for a single household at the 100 percent level.
"I really feel like its benefited people who have the income, but for me, it's not really helping me and I feel like they should have something special for college students because what if we don't have parents anymore? I feel like it's weird because the government is supposed to be helping us, but they really aren't helping us," Thompson said.
Since Thompson does not qualify for insurance, she won't be expected to pay a penalty fee. However, she won't be able to get health care at any doctor's office that requires insurance.
But, here comes the confusing part. Those who refuse to sign up for ACA, but are above the poverty guidelines will have to start paying a penalty. That penalty starts at $95 per adult, or 1 percent of household income. For children it's $47.50.
But, that's just the fee for 2014. In 2015, that fee will double and by 2016 uninsured Americans will be expected to pay hundreds of dollars in tax penalties.
"A lot of folks don't understand ACA or what they need to do to take care of it, but we've been out there," O'Neill says. "We've been out in all of our counties, and the five surrounding counties monthly, weekly trying to educate folks on what this is."
The kicker is those who will be paying the penalty are still considered to be uninsured.
For more information, visit healthcare.gov.