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Deadline for affordable health care extended

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- The deadline to get affordable health care by January has been extended until Tuesday.

For the 220,000 uninsured El Pasoans, they now have an extra day to get through the online marketplace, healthcare.gov, and pick an insurance plan that will kick in by January.

"The president felt that there was a need, based on all the problems that the website has been experiencing," said Roy Ortega, Project Amistad's community relations manager.

When the government-run website, HealthCare.Gov, first launched, many people were unable to get through the enrollment process because the website was inundated with people.

With a huge spike in users to the site Monday, President Barack Obamas administration was worried that the same glitches would occur, but according to Ortega, so far so good.

"The website has been functioning fairly well," said Ortega.

Online navigators with Project Amistad helped at least 100 people in person Monday and assisted even more people over the phone. One of those people was Armando Perez of east El Paso.

"There's a lot of plans with a lot of options so that's where I got confused and said I better find some help," said Perez.

For Perez, having health insurance by the New Year is important.

"It's a big relief because unfortunately nowadays you can go to the hospital on an emergency and be in the hospital for just a few hours and you're talking thousands and thousands of dollars," said Perez.

That's thousands of dollars Perez said he doesn't have.

"I lost my job in March of this year and this is the first time that I find myself without health insurance. So it's difficult. It's very stressful," said Perez.

Project Amistad staff members said they have successfully enrolled just about everyone who contacted them Monday, but it's taking longer than expected.

"The average is about an hour," said Ortega.

Between any confusion navigating the website and long wait times, the folks at Project Amistad advise everyone in the Borderland who wishes to enroll by tomorrow's deadline to do so as soon as possible.

"We'll be able to help even more people by noon tomorrow. We're not going to be open past noon, but we will be here, and as many people as walk in the door, we're going to try to help as many of them as possible before we close," said Ortega.

For whoever doesn't enroll by Tuesday and is still uninsured, they won't face any fines. People have until March 31 to get health insurance without being penalized.