It took two months, weekly visits to the jammed-up federal website and a half-dozen phone calls, but JoAnn Smith finally got health insurance Monday. It'll only cost her $3.19 a month to cover herself and her husband.
"I just instantly burst into tears," she says.
Smith started working on getting insurance even before the federal website, HealthCare.gov, opened Oct. 1, pre-registering to get a headstart on the process. But, like millions of other Americans who tried, she was stymied by the website's glitches.
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She told NBC News her story last week, and as of Friday, a week after the federal website was supposed to have been much improved, Smith still could not get all the way through the process.
Smith, a 60-year-old medical transcriptionist in Clearwater, Fla., must use the federal website to buy health insurance because Florida opted not to run its own. She's been without health insurance for years and had been looking forward to getting subsidized coverage for herself and her husband Eric, 56, who's unemployed.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act aims to get health insurance to the 16 percent of Americans who don't have any by helping some buy health insurance on new websites, and by widening Medicaid benefits to others. People have until Dec. 23 to sign up for health insurance that starts on the first possible day, Jan. 1. They have until March 31 to sign up and avoid paying a tax.
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Smith's employer doesn't provide health insurance. "They took a vote at the company and people wanted more money in their pockets," she says. And business has been thin. "I have had four paycuts in one year," says Smith, who estimates she will earn $23,000 this year for her 40-hour a week job.
This makes her eligible for a hefty federal subsidy.