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Some South Dakota residents see delays on health care website

By Dirk Lammers

SIOUX FALLS — Some South Dakota residents trying to get an early jump on the health insurance marketplace signups that opened Tuesday were greeted with a message saying the federal website was down. South Dakota is one of 36 states letting the federal government run its health exchange, where consumers can compare plans and buy health insurance. The exchanges are a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Residents are directed to for the first day of a six-month openenrollment period.

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The website on Tuesday morning warned that it had a lot of visitors, sometimes sending users to an online application and sometimes asking them to try again later.

Kim Jones, coordinator for the South Dakota Navigator Coalition, an organiza- tion helping people enroll, said the heavy demand was anticipated and she expects that federal officials will work out the kinks in the system. “I think everyone pretty much expected that there could be a big rush, that the site could be overloaded on the first day,” Jones said. “We have six months to work through this. This is only Day 1.”

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

Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said that more than 1 million people had visited in the last day — five times more users than have ever been on the site at one time.