SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The new year brought relief for Americans who previously had no health insurance or were stuck in poor plans, but it also led to confusion after the troubled rollout of the federal health care reforms sent a crush of late applications to overloaded government agencies.
That created stacks of yet-to-be-processed paperwork and thousands, if not millions, of people unsure about whether they have insurance.
Mike Estes of Beaverton, Ore., finally received his insurance card Dec. 27 after applying in early November. Still, the family was thrilled to have insurance through the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon's version of Medicaid, because their previous $380-a-month premium "literally crushed our family's finances," Estes said.
The new year brings the most personal test yet for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul as millions of patients begin to seek care under its new mandates. The burden for implementing the law now shifts to insurance companies and health care providers.
Obama administration officials estimate that 2.1 million consumers have enrolled so far through the federal and state-run health insurance exchanges that are a central feature of the federal law.
But even before coverage began, health insurance companies complained they were receiving thousands of faulty applications from the government, and some people who thought they had enrolled for coverage have not received confirmation.
Tens of thousands of potential Medicaid recipients in the 36 states relying on the federal exchange also are in limbo after the federal website that was supposed to send their applications to the states failed to do so.
Reports of complications were scattered across the country.
In Burlington, Vt., the state's largest hospital had almost two dozen patients seek treatment with new health insurance policies, but more than half of those did not have insurance cards. Minnesota's health care exchange said 53,000 people had enrolled for coverage through its marketplace, but it was unable to confirm the insurance status of an additional 19,000 people who created accounts but did not appear to have purchased the plans.
In Connecticut, officials were pleading for patience as call centers fielded calls from people who are concerned because they had yet to receive a bill for premiums or an insurance identification card.
"This is an unprecedented time, because there are a record number of people who have applied for coverage with an effective date of Jan. 1," said Donna Tommelleo, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Insurance.