Just As The Website Starts To Struggle, Obamacare Sign-Up Deadline Gets Extended

Dec 23, 2013

ALMOST DONE: Navigator Nini Hadwen, right, helps an insurance seeker during a sign-up event at Dadeland Mall.
Credit Rick Stone

The Obama Administration took some of the pressure off health-insurance seekers on Monday, extending the healthcare registration deadline for Jan. 1 coverage until Christmas Eve at midnight. That will also reduce the load on the Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov, which was starting to show the strain of high demand.

"That's definitely an issue," said Karen Basha Egozi, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which provides the purple-shirted "navigators" who help people negotiate the troubled website and enroll for coverage.

"Our Broward office did experience the website going down for a period of time. Then it went back up."

Monday was to be a hard-and-fast deadline and the planning called for a region-wide navigator presence to sign up as many people as possible.

One location was among the Christmas shoppers at Dadeland Mall.

"We're taking advantage of this very heavy Christmas shopping day so that people are aware that we're here. We're going to be here all day," said navigator Monica Gonzalez as she settled in for a day of guiding long-deferred healthcare decisions.

Navigators set up their tables in the Microsoft store, knowing that real computer experts were just steps away should the website start acting up again.

Which it did. Refurbished and repaired though it had been over the last two months, the site was still straining to handle the crush of deadline filers. At Dadeland, it crashed a time or two and for some, a budgeted half-hour break from Christmas shopping turned into an interlude of an hour or more.

Egozi said the outages were short and sporadic, concentrated mostly in Broward County.

According to Census figures, about four million Floridians are without health insurance. And there are parts of South Florida where the rate of uninsured exceeds 60 percent.