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Thousands in Illinois told to start over on health insurance

Illinois officials are emailing and calling thousands of people, advising them to start over on their health insurance applications if they believe the federal government mistakenly referred them to Medicaid.

The latest wrinkle in the troubled enrollment process for the nation's new health insurance system was announced Wednesday, just days ahead of a key enrollment deadline.

The federal HealthCare.gov website received more than 30,000 applications from Illinoisans who may be eligible for Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. That federal site has been plagued by glitches that now are mostly fixed.

Those 30,000 applications are the ones in question. Some Illinois residents who were referred to Medicaid believe they were incorrectly denied private health coverage, said Illinois Department of Insurance spokesman Mike Claffey.

Individuals who make less than $15,860 a year qualify for Medicaid, as do families of four with annual income below $32,500. States have final say on who's eligible for Medicaid.

People with higher incomes can shop for a private insurance plan on the marketplace, and many will get government subsidies to help pay for it. Private insurance costs more than Medicaid, which is generally free. But private insurance provides patients with better access to doctors, particularly specialists. Some doctors don't take new Medicaid patients.

Illinois officials said anyone who believes they were referred to Medicaid by mistake should start again at the Get Covered Illinois online screening tool. That's a state-run website that asks simple questions and sends users either to Medicaid or the health insurance marketplace.

Officials say if the screener sends them to HealthCare.gov, they should create a new account with a different email address and submit a new application. If the screener refers them to the state's Medicaid site, they can submit an application there.

Applicants can call the Get Covered Illinois help desk at 866-311-1119 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day to get more assistance.

Monday is a key enrollment deadline under the law. People who want their private insurance coverage to start on Jan. 1 must enroll by then. Enrollment continues for private coverage through March 31.

Applications for Medicaid are accepted throughout the year.