WHEELING - Patients turned out to Wheeling Health Right on Tuesday to register for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, but few were successful as the federal Healthcare Insurance Marketplace website was overloaded by individuals across the nation.
Tuesday was the first day Americans could sign up for the coverage. The Affordable Care Act seeks to lower the rate of uninsured in the country by creating a larger pool for public and private insurance coverage, and citizens can register for coverage or view their options by logging on to the Healthcare.gov website
Registration through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace continues through Dec. 31.
Kathie Brown, executive director of Wheeling Health Right, said many of the patients coming to the facility qualify for coverage, and most all patients coming to the facility for care Tuesday asked about registering.
But when Health Right employees attempted to assist the patients with their online registration, a message stating "please wait" was seen.
"I don't know if anyone was signed up," she said. "But they have until Dec. 31. There's no real rush."
Office manager Janice Carenbauer provided patients with paper registration forms when the website couldn't be accessed. She noted there were some panicked people who showed up Tuesday at Health Right to register, and many were parents of children currently covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program. The C.H.I.P. program ends in January, and these children need to be re-registered for federal health care assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
Susan Barretto, a patient at Health Right, said she wasn't familiar with the new federal health care program, but wanted to continue to receive her health care at the facility.
"Before I came here, I had no health insurance - and it was horrible," she said. "To see a doctor, I would have to go to the emergency room and I would see a bill. I hope what they say is true and we all have health insurance. There are a lot of people out there who work two or three jobs part time and can't afford health insurance. Everybody gets sick - not only the rich. The poor do too."
West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, also was on hand Tuesday to speak about the act. He credited the health care facility and other free clinics throughout the state with"filling a void" by providing health care to those that need it.
"Over 18,000 Americans a year die because they lack health insurance," he continued. "That translates to four West Virginians dying just this week because they don't have health insurance. These are people who die from undiagnosed hypertension, women who die of cervical cancer ... these are all very prevented illnesses if treated properly and diagnosed early. "
Coverage under the Affordable Care Act - also known as Obamacare - should help to eliminate the fear of many people that they can't afford medical treatment, and get them to the doctor sooner for treatment, Kessler continued.
He added there are about 170,000 West Virginians who don't have some form of health insurance, and this equals one in 10 people among the state's population of about 1.8 million residents.