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Ohio insurance chief experiences health site woes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's insurance director said Wednesday that while exploring the federal government's website on the new health care system, she has encountered the same computer glitches and delays that have frustrated many consumers looking for insurance coverage.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a Republican and one of the state's more vocal critics of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, told a group of small business owners that her insurance department is asking people to be patient and to try the healthcare.gov website during off hours.

"Maybe if we all get up at midnight and try to get on the system — well, if we all do, it won't work," she joked to Ohio members of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Consumers can get private health insurance, subsidized by the federal government, through the new insurance markets created by the 2010 law. The markets opened on Oct. 1. Consumers have until Feb. 15 to enroll in a health care plan to avoid penalties for not having insurance. Coverage starts on Jan. 1.

Ohio chose to let federal authorities run its online marketplace, which has been snarled by technical glitches and long waits. Taylor said she went to the website because she wanted to know how it worked.

"I've been on," Taylor told reporters. "The note that comes up to be patient, high volume — experiencing high volume of users. You know, it is frustrating."

Those promoting the nation's new health insurance system have said that consumers still have months to make decisions and that it's more important for people to take their time and make an informed choice — even if that means waiting a month or more.

Taylor told the business owners that she started bracing for problems this summer, when the insurance department struggled to send Washington information by computer on Ohio's health plans. "This is what we expected," she said.

Taylor said she doesn't know how many Ohioans have successfully enrolled in the new markets because Washington is running them.

Also Oct. 1, the state launched a new benefits website to help people find out whether they are eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled. The website has been directing people to the federal health care exchange if they aren't eligible for the Medicaid program. And under guidance from the state, county offices also are steering people to the new insurance markets if they don't meet Medicaid qualifications.

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