HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The deadline was just hours away to sign up for insurance in the first enrollment period under President Barack Obama's signature health care law, and Erik Furness was just in time, with his tax filing in hand along with the hope that he could get health insurance.
The 47-year-old self-employed barber from Philadelphia created an account, got in line, and expected to wrap up the process in the coming days, he said.
"Oh man, I'm very optimistic about it," Furness said. "It's a big, heavy load off my shoulders. ... I haven't had any health care, and in my profession, if I get sick, I can't make a living."
He was not procrastinating by showing up on the last day, but he had wanted to get his tax paperwork back from his overwhelmed tax preparer first, he said. He created an account at the online gateway to the law's health insurance marketplace, Healthcare.gov, and was told that it would take a few more days to complete the process because of the huge volume of people trying to sign up.
Furness was one of several dozen people who came into north Philadelphia's St. Elizabeth's Community and Wellness Center on Monday as part of an outreach event by Project HOME and the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.
All in all, Furness was pleased with his outcome, especially after he had a tough year in which he made just $15,000, he said. He said he was told that a plan that did not include dental or eye care would cost him 32 cents a month.
Health care advocates and the not-for-profit Blues insurance companies in Pennsylvania were pushing to get as many people as possible to sign up before the deadline.
A spokesman for Pittsburgh-based Highmark said it was seeing an influx of people into its 10 retail insurance stores in Pennsylvania in recent days. A growing number of people who are 34 or younger are signing up for insurance through the exchange, where it is possible to get a tax-credit subsidy to help pay for the insurance plan, said Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger.
Enrollment began Oct. 1.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said nearly 160,000 Pennsylvanians signed up for coverage through the federally run insurance marketplace through the end of February. The Obama administration initially had hoped that it'd get 206,000 signups in Pennsylvania through the end of March.
Federal officials are unable to say how many of those who signed up were previously uninsured.