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March 19--This is it.
March 31 closes the first open enrollment of the centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act signed four years ago: health coverage for millions of Americans at a discounted price.
And that means an increasing scramble by consumers, agents and advocates onto www.healthcare.gov as well as worry that -- as 11:59 p.m.March 31 approaches -- the surge will trigger the same maddening glitches that dogged the site when it launched Oct. 1.
"It's going to be a long week," said insurance agent Sonny Gurney, who earlier this month was staring at a frozen computer screen. "Everything's already starting to slow down."
With few exceptions, those who don't find insurance by March 31 will go without coverage until next year.
So agents, federally trained enrollment staff and others are keeping offices open well past normal quitting time. They're still working the phones late at night. And in the daytime, they're perched on folding chairs at community centers and in church basements -- laptops and coffee within arm's reach -- trying to help consumers weigh their options.
Marcia and Ray Lawrence dropped by such an event at the Wayne County Community College District campus in Taylor earlier this month to make sure they'd chosen the right policy. Here, the Wyandotte couple found better coverage for about $200 less a month.
They were thrilled.
"I've heard people say, 'I can't afford it,' but they don't even look into it," said Ray Lawrence.
For still others, like Chris and Roger Mathena of Lincoln Park, there is no monthly premium at all.
As a parts inspector, Roger Mathena, 56, makes $9.75 an hour; Chris Mathena, 51, is out of work. So federal tax credits could cover their premiums.
The downside: The plan had high deductibles -- "a rip-off," Chris Mathena said.
Roger Mathena wasn't as upset. The policy will guard them against the costs of a medical catastrophe, and they won't face a tax penalty next year for not having coverage, he added: "We can't afford that either."
There's little doubt that thousands of Michiganders have left it until the last minute, said Suzy Alberts, president of the Michigan Association of Health Underwriters.
"We see it all the time. People will procrastinate as long as you allow them to," she said. With the complexity of the law and the disastrous, glitch-ridden rollout of www.healthcare.gov in October, it's not surprising, she said.
It's worth the time to sort it all out.
Through Feb. 28, 87% of the 144,587 Michiganders who chose plans on the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace, or state exchange, were eligible for some kind of tax credit.
More on what you need to know about health coverage:
-- Get help with Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace enrollment
-- From tax credits to canceling policies, reader questions answered
-- 470,000 Michiganders will be eligible for expanded Medicaid; here's what to know
-- Highlights of plans offered by 13 insurers on state exchange
-- Those who don't get health insurance face penalties
-- Overwhelmed? Here are some tips as you look for health insurance
-- Not eligible for tax credits? You could find a better deal off the exchange
-- Who to ask for help depends on what you need
-- Already have health insurance at work? Basic questions answered
-- 10 essential benefits all insurance policies must carry
Contact Robin Erb: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-2708. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/FreepHealth.
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