Locals experience difficulties signing up under Affordable Health Care Act

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Joe Contreras sells hot dogs across the street from UF Health Jacksonville, where many of the city's uninsured residents go for health care.

Contreras is one of the uninsured and knows he will have to sign up for insurance soon under the Affordable Health Care Act, but he's not really sure how it's done.

"Yeah, I got to do it. It's insurance. I can't really complain," he said. "I think it's going to be good."

But thousands in Jacksonville and across north Florida are finding it's not that easy. In fact, the people who know how to fill out the forms online and navigate the health care sites to help people sign up say it has yet to work for them.

"We had 500, but not one successful entry because of the glitches," said Nikole Helvey, of the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida.

On Monday, President Barack Obama said he's confident the administration will be able to fix the problems with signing up online. He guaranteed that everyone who wants to get insurance through the new exchanges will be able to do so, even if they have to enroll over the phone or fill out a paper application.

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., said health care reform has been ongoing for more than a year. She said the last problems with the website will be fixed and she thinks people will be given more time to comply.

"Keep in mind that we are going to extend that deadline for sure because of the shutdown," Brown said. "Because people assisting, people navigating, a lot of those people were furloughed."

Brown said problems are to be expected when a new program starts.

"Yes, we are going to work through it, and the president says we want good ideas, but no good idea is to start over. Over my dead body am I going to start over. It's been too hard and we have come too far and worked too long. We are moving forward."

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., said this has been a fiscal nightmare, and his office issued this statement about the president's speech:

"I'm not holding my breath. The bottom line: he cannot hide from the fact that the law is flawed and its botched rollout is a sign of even worse things to come. Obamacare is stifling the economy, killing jobs, driving up premiums, and forcing people off the health care plan they have and like."

Sen. Macro Rubio, R-Fla., says people need to keep track of how often they've tried to log on to the website.

"With all the problems and errors with the ObamaCare website, people should collect as much evidence as they can from their experiences in order to protect themselves from potential fraud, double billing, and penalties once the mandate is enforced," Rubio said in a statement.

Channel 4 spoke with hospital workers Monday night who are helping people enroll in Obamacare.

"We help sign up patients without insurance who need medical service," said St. Vincent's Hospital's Kevin Roberts.

The Hope Program was originally set up at St. Vincent's to help patients without insurance, but Roberts has been frustrated with enrolling patients into the government backed health care system.

"It was so frustrating to have these patients come to the hospital and walk away with nothing done," said Roberts. "It's been a relief to see them more educated and happy with the information they leave with. It seems like they just haven't tested it with so many people on the website at the same time."

Channel 4 also sat down with a local web designer to ask why healthcare.gov failed.

"In this case, how many places it has to go out and pull information from," said Jay Owen.

Owen works at Design Extensions out of his office in World Golf Village. He said similar sized sites like Facebook or Twitter are even more complex than the healthcare website and they don't fail.

"The healthcare.gov website has to go pull data from mother sources, and it seems like it just wasn't tested on a scale that will make it actually work," said Owen.

Owen told Channel 4 that whoever designed the site for the government will have a lot of questions to answer.

"This would be a scary situation, especially if you've been paid what the company's been paid to do this site. I'm not sure how their contract reads, it's almost operational at this point," said Owen.

For those without insurance, UF health will remain their hospital. There is a contract with the city for services at least next year.

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