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State residents have today to sign-up for Jan. 1 health coverage

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North country residents did their last-minute shopping Tuesday— for health insurance — before the holiday.

Patient navigators were busy with appointments to get Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence county residents enrolled in a health plan by Tuesday’s deadline, or at least show them all options.

People may still request appointments, but insurance won’t be effective until Feb. 1, or later, depending on the day they enroll.

“It’s gotten busier toward the cut-off,” said Bonnie G. Towles, patient navigator with ACR Health. “In other counties, our agency has been very busy. I traveled to Utica to help out with appointments.”

While colleagues might still have appointments, Mrs. Towles said she does not have any for the immediate future. That could change after the holiday, as some appointments were canceled Monday as people dealt with effects of the ice storm.

“I had two follow-ups yesterday, and they ended up choosing their plan,” she said. “We’ve been pretty steady.”

Mrs. Towles was the only ACR Health navigator working in the Watertown office Tuesday, when the office was open until 1 p.m.

After the holiday, another navigator will be back, she said, and navigators will travel to appointments, if necessary.

Other area nonprofit agencies that have patient navigators are the St. Lawrence Health Initiative and the North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council. The Greater-Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce has been helping small businesses find plans for their employees.

According to the state Department of Health, about 189,000 New Yorkers enrolled in health insurance plans through the New York State of Health online marketplace for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

That was an increase of nearly 54,000 from just one week prior. State residents may sign up for coverage until March 31, the last day of the open-enrollment period. While people throughout the nation began signing up Oct. 1 through the federal exchange, local residents waited at least a week after that start date to receive appointments locally via navigators helping guide them through the New York marketplace.

There are 15 marketplaces, including the one in New York, that have been implemented in states and the District of Columbia, separate from the federal system.

The remaining 36 states have marketplaces that are supported or fully run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The state Department of Health said in a recent news release that New York is on track to reach its enrollment goal of 1.1 million people by the end of 2014.

“They changed things with the website to make it easier to navigate,” Mrs. Towles said. “The New York State website, by far, has been easiest and quickest to get through, even though there’s been glitches.”

The federal website had been plagued with multiple problems and shutdowns on several occasions.

For more information on the state exchange, visit www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov.

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