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State extends health insurance deadline

March 31 was the last day to sign

March 31 was the last day to sign up for health insurance with the NY State of Health for coverage this year to avoid a federal tax penalty. But the state -- similar to the federal website healthcare.gov -- decided to extend the enrollment period to April 15 for those people who tried to apply for health insurance by the March 31 deadline but were unable to do so through no fault of their own. Credit: Istock

It ain't over till it's over.

Monday was the last day to sign up for health insurance with NY State of Health for coverage this year to avoid a federal tax penalty.

But the state on Friday decided to extend the enrollment period to April 15 for those people who tried to apply for health insurance by the March 31 deadline but were unable to do so through no fault of their own.

Meanwhile, the federal website healthcare.gov, which also has extended its deadline to April 15 for similar reasons, crashed several times Monday due to "record traffic" of 1.6 million visits before 2 p.m. The state's website was operating normally, with only "minor delays," the state said.

"The NY State of Health site is experiencing 6,500-7,000 simultaneous users in the Web portal today, which represents its highest activity to date," the state said in a statement Monday.

Donna Frescatore, executive director of NY State of Health, said the exchange was "committed" to making sure those who "have taken steps to apply before April 1, 2014," can enroll.

Acceptable reasons to the state for extending the deadline include identity issues, technological issues or customer service delays.

Certifying his identity was the issue for Marvin Mora of Port Washington. The maintenance worker originally from Guatemala said it took him five hours early Monday to get to the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council in Hauppauge -- designated as a "navigator" agency for enrollees -- due to the snow.

He said, via an interpreter, that his insurance through his job had been canceled, that he had phoned the state's call line to sign up and that he thought he was going to get paperwork in the mail but it never came.

Mora, 44, was told Monday that because he's in the process of applying to become a legal resident, it would take time to confirm his identity -- but it would be completed by April 15.

Stacy Villagran, director of grants administration for the hospital council, said it had seen a sharp upswing in people like Mora looking to sign up at the last minute. By close to 4 p.m. Monday, the council had done 40 applications and "we still have people coming in to apply," Villagran said. "We have had no real problems with the website."

On Sunday, the state's exchange reported that since March 24 almost 100,000 more New Yorkers have signed up for insurance. This, the state said, "represents the highest volume of enrollments since the Dec. 24, 2013, deadline for Jan. 1, 2014 coverage."

That brought total enrollment in New York as of Sunday to 812,033 since the exchange's opening on Oct. 1. Of those enrollees, more than 70 percent were previously uninsured, the state said.

An Associated Press source said last night the health care law was on track to hit 7 million sign-ups on deadline day.

With the exception of those individuals who tried but were unable to enroll before Monday's deadline, only those individuals and families who have a "qualifying live event" -- such as getting married or divorced, gaining a dependent, losing job insurance, or moving to the state -- could still enroll for coverage in 2014. Others without insurance face a penalty. The penalty this year is either 1 percent of one's yearly household income or $95 per person, whichever is higher.

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