Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay consumers race to beat insurance deadline

TAMPA — A record number of Americans on Monday rushed to beat the midnight deadline to buy health insurance, many encountering website delays reminiscent of the Obamacare marketplace's troubled rollout last fall.

The website was out of service for nearly four hours early Monday morning as technicians patched a software bug. The system came back up shortly before 9 a.m., but then another early afternoon problem temporarily kept new applicants from signing up.

But unlike the website's Oct. 1 debut, this time many consumers were getting around the glitches. Federal officials reported 1.2 million visits before noon and more than 125,000 simultaneous users. No Monday enrollment numbers were available.

At the start of a 12-hour enrollment event at Al Lopez Park in Tampa, counselors said some of their clients were having a hard time setting up accounts. In some cases, the databases that back up the federal site weren't able to verify people's identities, the first step in the enrollment process.

Pedro Curbelo, a 47-year-old uninsured shuttle driver, and his 19-year-old daughter, Claudia, also uninsured, were trying to get into the Spanish-language site but got shut out. As an enrollment counselor made phone calls on their behalf, Curbelo shook his head. He said they meant to enroll earlier but got busy with work.

"If the law says do it, I do it," said Curbelo. "But I do want to get affordable insurance."

Starting this year, most Americans must carry health insurance or risk a tax penalty: the greater of 1 percent of their adjusted income or $95 per person. Most people get their coverage through work or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid, but about 15 million Americans buy plans on the individual market.

Though Monday was the deadline to secure coverage, the Obama administration is offering extensions. For instance, people who tried to buy plans through but couldn't finish before the deadline have until mid April to get policies that take effect May 1.

Starting today, is supposed to show a blue box in which consumers can attest that they tried previously to complete enrollment. Consumers won't be asked to prove that the technical glitches prevented them from enrolling, officials have said.

Consumers who aren't eligible for an enrollment extension, or don't qualify for a special enrollment period due to an event like losing a job or getting married, will have to wait until next year for coverage. Open enrollment for 2015 starts Nov. 15.

These new enrollment rules apply to those who shop through as well as those who buy their individual plans directly from insurers.

Before Monday, about 6 million Americans had signed up for private insurance through the federal and state marketplaces. The Obama administration has not said how many of those people were previously uninsured, nor how many have paid their first premium.

Nor is it known how many people have bypassed the exchanges and bought plans directly from the insurers. These are most likely consumers whose incomes were too high to qualify for federal premium subsidies.

Supporters were hoping that enrollment would finish closer to the administration's original goal of 7 million sign-ups.

But it's too early to assess the Affordable Care Act's success or failure. For one thing, whether there are enough healthy people to help subsidize the costs of the sicker ones will help determine if rates in 2015 are affordable.

And any appraisal of the law's impact in reducing the number of uninsured Americans must also take into account the so-called Medicaid gap problem.

In general, a single person making between $11,670 and $46,680 can qualify for federal premium subsidies. The health care law originally assumed all states would expand Medicaid eligibility to help people below that level, but the Supreme Court ruling on the law left expansion up to the states.

The Florida Legislature refused $51 billion from the federal government for the program, so around 800,000 Floridians who might have gained coverage through Medicaid get nothing — though they are not on the hook for a tax penalty because they are too poor.

At the Tampa enrollment event, Carlos Ortiz, 21, was delighted Monday morning when he finally got into He grinned and gave a high-five to the counselor helping him.

But his hopes were dashed when he learned that his part-time job as a computer technician puts him in the Medicaid gap.

Ortiz said the cheapest plan he saw was a catastrophic plan for $122 a month. He said he would instead look into getting help through Hillsborough County's health program for the poor.

"I'm bothered," said Ortiz, who left the enrollment event the same way he came in: uninsured.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (813) 226-3374.

By the numbers

Obama administration officials aren't sure when the final figures will be released, but here's what we knew as of last week:


Total number of Floridians who selected a marketplace plan by March 1


Percentage who qualified for premium assistance


Average annual assistance per enrollee

1.6 million

Number of Floridians eligible for assistance

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Tampa Bay consumers race to beat insurance deadline 03/31/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 12:05am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jordan Spieth wins British Open


    SOUTHPORT, England — Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to usher in a new era of golf.

    Jordan Spieth, left, stands on a mound to look at his ball on the 13th hole after hitting onto the driving range.
  2. Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

    Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
  3. Wesley Chapel hockey camp impresses youth players, parents

    Lightning Strikes

    WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.

  4. Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — There was no "here we go again" moment in the dugout as Rougned Odor's two-run homer in the eighth inning arced across Tropicana Field and toward the rightfield seats, even though when it landed, the score was tied and another late-inning Rays lead was blown.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria heads back to the dugout after fouling out in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on first.
  5. White House signals acceptance of Russia sanctions bill


    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to …

    President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia would be blocked.