HELENA — A surge of Montanans scrambling to sign up for health insurance reached its peak with Monday's deadline, and insurers said that rush could be enough to meet federal officials' original goal of 31,000 people enrolled through the nation's health care overhaul law.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana bulked up its customer-service staff in anticipation of a last-minute dash of enrollments and questions coming online, by phone and through the doors of its six district offices right up to the Monday night open-enrollment deadline.
"We have seen a surge all throughout the month of March and anticipate today we will see the same," Blue Cross spokesman John Doran said. "We want to do everything possible to make sure everyone who wants and needs affordable health care can sign up."
Blue Cross is one of three private insurers providing subsidized coverage in Montana through the new online marketplace run by the U.S. government. Montana is one of 36 states that use the federal site, which was beset by problems after its October launch and was experiencing more glitches Monday with the increased traffic.
Doran said people can sign up through the Blue Cross website to avoid bottlenecking at the federal site.
Despite the slow start last fall, 22,500 Montana residents had signed up for insurance plans through the exchange by the end of February, which is about 2,300 fewer than federal health officials had originally projected for that time.
In the final days of the enrollment period, more young people who were previously uninsured are now signing up, said Montana Health Co-op president and CEO Jerry Dworak.
"This is a whole different crowd we're getting right now," Dworak said. "I think it's normal human tendency to wait to the last minute to do everything. Just look at the filing of income taxes."
The surge started for the co-op about 10 days ago, he said. Last Monday's call volume set a record high for the co-op, but Monday's calls had already beaten that mark by 50 percent, he said.
That means the federal officials' September target of 31,000 Montanans signed up by the deadline is still in reach, both Doran and Dworak said.
"I would be disappointed if we don't blow through (the target) based on the stuff we're seeing for the last month," Dworak said.
About 6.5 million people nationwide had signed up for health insurance through the online markets.