The best strategy for Illinois residents who want to sign up for insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law may involve the telephone.
Consumers who have run into glitches and delays on the federal website shouldn't give up, state officials said. Instead, they suggested Tuesday, consumers should schedule an appointment with an enrollment counselor by phone. And, on Monday, Obama gave a federal call center number when he made remarks about the health law's website problems, conceding that the wait times might go up after he'd read the number on national television.
With technical problems still troubling the federal HealthCare.gov website, here are some tips on how to get signed up for health coverage:
PICK UP THE PHONE: Chicago hair stylist and bartender Mike Leon, 34, called the federal call center after he tried the federal website five days in a row and couldn't get it to work. The call center staff helped him through the enrollment process and he's now signed up for a health plan.
"I called and got through in about two minutes," Leon said. The federal call center number -- the one Obama mentioned on television -- is (800) 318-2596.
Illinois officials suggest calling the Get Covered Illinois Help Desk at (866) 311-1119. Help desk staff answer calls seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They can answer questions and assist with enrollment in both Medicaid and the subsidized insurance available through the new Illinois marketplace. They've received more than 8,000 calls since Oct. 1.
SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT: Illinois consumers can find in-person help close to home by entering their ZIP codes at GetCoveredIllinois.gov; that will take them to a page with enrollment organizations and their phone numbers. Pick a local phone number and schedule an appointment. There's now a Spanish language version of the website. Click on "Languages."
FIND YOUR PAPERWORK: Joann Boblick is a trained enrollment counselor who is helping people in the La Grange. She suggests bringing along documents to your appointment that will help speed the enrollment process: Social Security card, state ID card or driver's license, birth certificates for children you want to enroll and your most recent pay stub.
If you have a favorite doctor or dentist, bring the correct spelling of your provider's name. Then you can make sure your providers are part of the network covered by the health plan you choose.
Boblick can speak from personal experience. She succeeded in enrolling herself in a health plan on HealthCare.gov. When the website was slow, she folded laundry.
"You can get your laundry done. You can work on other things," she said. "Sometimes you can multi-task."
ASK A BROKER: Insurance agents and brokers who have registered with the new marketplace can help you enroll in a health plan and apply for tax credits if you qualify for financial help. Brokers get paid by the insurance carriers they represent. That means consumers pay the same whether they use a broker or not.
WAIT IT OUT: Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up and pay their premiums if they want coverage to start Jan. 1. As Obama said in his remarks Monday, the insurance plans aren't going to sell out and prices won't change. "Everybody who wants insurance through the marketplace will get insurance," Obama said.