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New Yorkers flock to register on state health exchange

The health exchanges that are part of the Affordable Care Act opened Tuesday, and in short order there were two million hits on the New York state website that's selling health insurance policies. People who weren't turning to the website in central New York were lining up to get face-to-face information on how to choose a plan.

Willie Terrell, of Syracuse, has been waiting for this day since he lost his health insurance a year ago.

"I don't have anything right now," Terrell said. "I'm a diabetic, I need medicines. I have a son who is in college, who stays hurt. I'm trying to do a family coverage for me and him. I'm trying to find the cheapest best that'll fit us both, you know?"

Sarah Walton, of the Northeast Syracuse Community Center, is one of the navigators tasked with answering questions about the health plans included under the Affordable Care Act. On the inaugural day of the exchanges, she was helping out Marina Rovas of Syracuse.  

"Right now we don't have insurance because my husband works through the union, and if he works adequate hours then we have insurance," Rovas said. "I came to see what we can do, because if one of my kids gets sick right now, we just stay home and give them Tylenol."

Along with the navigators, there are also certified application counselors affiliated with health plans or health centers who can answer questions. New York is one of nine states fully implementing the Affordable Care Act, and New York State Deputy Secretary of Health Courtney Burke says there are thousands of people in this part of the state who are in need of affordable health care.

"If you look at Syracuse and the Finger Lakes region in particular, there are about 300,000 people who may be eligible for insurance through the exchange," Burke said. "And out of those 300,000, about three-quarters may qualify for some type of subsidy to help them pay for the cost of insurance."

Sara Wall Bollinger, executive director of Health Connections in Syracuse emphasizes it doesn't all have to be done right now.

"We don't want to rush people," Bollinger said. "We want people to think it through, what's going to work best for them. And we are going to help and advise them through that process."

The state estimates that health insurance bills will drop about $50 a month in New York state with the advent of these health exchanges. This enrollment extends through March 31. For people who want their insurance to start January 1, the deadline to enroll is December 15.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.