With improved Obamacare website, consumers urged to forsake paper applications

     (Jon Elswick/AP Photo, file)

    (Jon Elswick/AP Photo, file)

    In early October, when healthcare.gov was mostly stalled, paper seemed to be the solution. Marketplace guides urged consumers to fill-out an application and send it in via snail mail.

    Two months later, with the online experience improving, it’s paper that seems to be gumming up the works—for some shoppers. And, so, there’s new advice for consumers trying to get coverage by Jan. 1.

    “We’re encouraging people to enroll online at this point,” said Laura Line, an assistant director with the nonprofit Resources for Human Development. Her group has a federal grant to help connect people with coverage.

    If you’ve haven’t heard back from the federal government, it’s time to call the healthcare.gov help line (1-800-318-2596), advised Joanne Grossi, regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

    A counselor can look up your application identification number and restart the process, she said.

    “Once you receive that, you can either stay on the line with the call center and complete the application, or you can go to healthcare.gov and finish the application,” Grossi said. “Or you can make an appointment with an in-person assister.”

    There are reports from all sectors that healthcare.gov is working better, but when 55-year-old Michael Dorsey tried the system Thursday night, he had no luck.

    Dorsey and regional director Grossi were both at an Out2Enroll event in Philadelphia Dec. 12. Dorsey wanted to enroll online that night, but he and application counselors hit a stumbling block twice.

    “They told me that particular error message usually means the system is too busy,” Dorsey said.

    Dorsey, a resident of the Wynnefield Heights neighborhood in Philadelphia, lives with HIV and pays $280 each month for private health insurance. He lives on a fixed income and said he’s hoping to find more affordable coverage through the ObamaCare shopping marketplace.

    Dorsey first tried to shop healthcare.gov in early October and ended up sending in a paper application.

    “Since then, I’ve been checking the mail daily. Nothing,” Dorsey said.

    He’ll try again. He’s planning on visiting one of Philadelphia’s in-person help locations Monday, Dec. 16.

    This week it’s become clear to more consumers that the paper method is just a first step to establish eligibility or create an online account. In the early days after the healthcare.gov launch many consumers thought they could complete enrollment entirely through the mail.

    The response time by mail could take four weeks — past the Dec. 31 deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. Plus, after enrolling in a plan, to complete the process, most people will need to write a check to their insurance company.

    Elana Gordon contributed to this report.

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