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Navigator: SD residents ask insurance questions

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news Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

By Dirk Lammers

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Although the website for the federal health insurance marketplace is in high demand, a South Dakota coordinator said Wednesday she's still fielding calls from people who aren't sure how President Barack Obama's health care law will affect them.

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South Dakota is one of 36 states letting the federal government run its health exchange, where consumers can compare plans and buy health insurance. But nonprofits and advocacy groups funded by federal grants are helping residents navigate the system and sign up for coverage.

Kim Jones of the South Dakota Navigator Coalition said people are getting through on the website, but that she also took several calls Wednesday and set up several appointments to meet with residents to discuss coverage options.

"The calls I've handled today had nothing to do with the website," Jones said. "They had to do with people being unaware with the Affordable Care Act and what it might mean for them."

The marketplaces represent a turning point in the nation's approach to health care, the biggest expansion in coverage in nearly 50 years. The Obama administration hopes to sign up 7 million people during the first year and aims to eventually sign up at least half of the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans through an expansion of Medicaid or government-subsidized plans.

About 105,000 South Dakotans, or 13 percent of the state's population, are uninsured, according to recent surveys.

Dec. 15 is the deadline to obtain coverage that'll start Jan. 1. Customers have until the end of March to sign up in order to avoid tax penalties.

Overloaded websites and jammed phone lines frustrated consumers nationwide Tuesday on the first day they could sign up.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said many Americans successfully enrolled on the first day, but she declined to put a number on it. She said the delays were due to "overwhelming interest" and high volume.

Jones said she talked the coalition's other South Dakota navigators and they, too, have been answering questions and setting up appointments. She said people are taking their time to learn about the whole process.

"I'm not hearing a huge outcry of frustration," Jones said. "I think so far, so good."

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