Steady flow of Arizonans seeking health insurance

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- Organizations working to help Arizona residents enroll in health insurance plans on the new federal exchange said Tuesday a steady flow of people was signing up as the deadline loomed to get coverage that starts Jan. 1.

The latest enrollment numbers for the state were unavailable, but about 20 percent of Arizonans don't have insurance, and at least 300,000 are expected to get Medicaid coverage for the poor starting the first of the year. That leaves about 700,000 people without insurance, many of them eligible to buy it through the exchange.

As of Nov. 30, 3,600 Arizonans had chosen plans through the marketplace, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Obama administration extended Monday's deadline for signing up for health insurance by a day, giving Americans in 36 states served by the federal site more time to select a plan.

The deadline is Tuesday night for those wishing to start their new policies Jan. 1 under the federal overhaul. But uninsured people can avoid a tax penalty if they pick a plan by March 31.

Among dozens of organizations helping with enrollment across the state, the Greater Phoenix Urban League adjusted its hours with the deadline change to help residents on Christmas Eve.

"We had a rush yesterday," said David Aguirre, the group's health marketplace coordinator. "Today has been slower.

"It's been going pretty well," he added. "So far, everybody we've tried to help, we've been able to help, and for people who did it at home, a lot of them just came in and wanted us to double check to make sure they didn't mess it up."

President Obama said more than 1 million Americans had enrolled for coverage since Oct. 1. The administration's estimates call for 3.3 million to sign up by Dec. 31, and the target is 7 million by the end of March.

The site had a disastrous debut in October but has gone through extensive improvements to make it more reliable and increase its capacity, and the administration said the system is now running well.

Cheri Tomlinson of Maricopa Integrated Health System, which is helping with outreach and enrollment efforts, said that while the system has improved, "we're still having some challenges getting through."

"There's still room for more improvement, that's for sure," Tomlinson said Tuesday, describing the last-minute enrollment efforts in Arizona as "very busy."