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Health Insurance Enrollment Begins

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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) -- Health organizations throughout the state hosted sign up events as the health insurance enrollment season kicked off for its second year on Saturday.

At the Mall of the Americas,  families wasted no time signing up for health insurance.  Open Enrollment for Affordable Care Act insurance plans will run through February 15th.  Those who don't want to navigate the government's website alone, can go to a number of centers across South Florida for assistance.

November 15, 2014: People signing up for healthcare at an open enrollment. (Source: CBS4)

Odalys Arevalo with Sunshine life and health Advisors explained, "The difference in doing this online and doing it with someone who knows is because  they really know about the plans. They know how the deductibles work, what copayments are like."

Zaily Jomolca and her family signed up for insurance last year after several years without health coverage.

"We had Medicaid a few years back, but in the meantime didn't have any," said Jomolca, adding, "It really made a difference. He {a family member} had surgery before when we didn't have insurance and we had to pay for everything.  Now we are sure that if we have an emergency we're going to be covered."

This year, she wanted to come on the first day to make sure she's covered for next year.

For those who want to keep the same plan as last year, advisors warn there have been some changes.

"It will be a little bit more expensive this year," said Arevalo.

WATCH Maggie Newland's report, click here.

Advisors urge anyone signing up for insurance to bring proof of citizenship, income, and other necessary documents so they can sign up successfully.

Last year's enrollment period was plagued with long lines and major issues with the government's website.  Lots of  people were unable to easily sign up for insurance.

On this year's first day of enrollment many said the process went much more smoothly.

"It's not hard at all, like half an hour and everything is ready," said Jomolca.

Florida Health officials are feeling the pressure to re-enroll nearly 1 million Floridians plus recruit new enrollees who sat out the first year — all in half the time due to a three-month enrollment period.

Local healthcare organizations like Community Health of South Florida Inc.(CHI) opened their doors at 8:30 a.m. Saturday for those wanting to enroll in health insurance plans.

Nearly one million Floridians signed up for so-called "Obamacare" insurance last year and 91 percent received financial help to pay for their premiums.

In its first year, despite strong opposition from the Republican-led Legislature, Florida was the unexpected star, getting more enrollees than any other state using the federal marketplace instead of its own program.

The bugs have supposedly been removed from the famously troubled website, which can withstand last season's peak loads and beyond with at least 125,000 simultaneous users. The online application has been pared from 76 screens to 16 for most consumers

The law's supporters also have additional ammunition this year to encourage enrollment. Fines for staying uninsured the full year jumped to $325 from $95.

"Folks coming in this year will be younger folks because they sat out last year," and they'll likely purchase plans with low-cost premiums, said Jon Urbanek, a senior vice president with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.

The "young invincible" crowd of 18-to-36 year olds is crucial to the law's success because insurance companies need their business to offset the costs of covering older, sicker and more expensive enrollees.

Federal health officials have said the majority of Floridians will see their out-of-pocket costs decrease, especially in big cities like Miami, with double digits drops predicted in Orlando and West Palm Beach. But state insurance officials have said consumers could expect an average premium increase of 13 percent.

Experts say education is one of the biggest challenges as many consumers only focused on the low monthly premium last year and didn't understand the potentially high deductible and out-of-pocket costs. Consumers were confused when they discovered their doctor wasn't in their plan's network or that they had to pay for testing because deductibles hadn't been met.

Consumers and health counselors waited hours on the phone last year trying to pay their first month's premiums as backlogged insurance companies struggled to meet demand.

Insurance companies say volume will always be an issue because open enrollment coincides with Medicare enrollment and many large groups also renew their policies in January. But insurers say they've expanded internet bandwidth, added staff and increased customer service hours.

Open enrollment runs until February 15th, 2015.

For enrollment deadlines, click here.

For more enrollment information, click here.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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