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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A blizzard, jammed phone lines and unreliable websites failed to stop throngs of procrastinating Americans from trying to sign up for health coverage by the midnight Monday deadline for President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy initiative.

In Louisiana, wait times for callers lasted up to two hours. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee received nearly 1,900 calls by midday compared with about 800 the previous Monday. And in California, where enrollments surged toward the Obama administration's original projection of 1.3 million, the deadline day volume forced the state exchange to switch off a key function on its website and encourage people to finish their applications in the days ahead.

Across the nation, the interest in getting health insurance and avoiding a federal tax penalty was made clear in interviews with enrollment counselors and consumers.

"I have not had a physical in over 15 years," said Dionne Gilbert, a 51-year-old uninsured woman from Denver who waited in a 90-minute line to get enrollment assistance. "I told myself, 'You need to do this. Your daughter loves you and needs you.'"

The last-minute rush was expected to significantly boost the number of Americans gaining coverage under the new law, and government officials told The Associated Press late Monday that they were on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance by the deadline. But the months ahead will show whether the Affordable Care Act will meet its mandate to provide affordable health care coverage or whether high deductibles, paperwork snags and narrow physician networks make it a bust.

The administration has not said how many of those who already have signed up closed the deal by paying their first month's premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured — the real test of Obama's health care overhaul. In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.

In Washington, the law's supporters already have their sights on Version 2.0 — fixes for the next open enrollment season commencing Nov. 15.

The advocacy group Families USA, which has backed Obama's overhaul from its inception, plans to release a 10-point package of improvements Tuesday that it says the administration can carry out without the approval of Congress. Among the recommendations: more face-to-face sign-ups, coordinating enrollment with tax-filing season to better show the consequences of remaining uninsured, eliminating penalties for smokers as California has done and improving coordination between the exchanges and state Medicaid programs.

"Clearly, the first enrollment period also informed us about different areas where improvements can be made," said Ron Pollack, the group's executive director.

On Monday, supporters of the health care law fanned out across the country in a final dash to sign up uninsured Americans. The HealthCare.gov website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 1.2 million through noon Monday.

At times, more than 125,000 people were simultaneously using the system, straining it beyond its previously estimated capacity. People not signed up for health insurance by the deadline, either through their jobs or on their own, were subject to IRS fines — a threat that helped drive the rush.

The federal website operating in 36 states stumbled early — out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. An afternoon hiccup temporarily kept new applicants from signing up, and the process slowed further as the day wore on. Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers say it still runs slowly.

The administration announced last week that people who started applying for health insurance but were not able to finish before Monday's enrollment deadline will get extra time. A variety of issues led people to seek this extension.

Health insurers and advocates in South Dakota encouraged residents to try to start the process on their own or leave a message at a federal hotline should they have to cancel an appointment with an insurance counselor because of a spring blizzard that dumped up to a foot of snow.

Those who showed up at enrollment events in other states found long lines and technical delays. Even those providing assistance were sometimes stymied.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., navigator Allie Stern waited 90 minutes to talk to an operator on a federal hotline. Patty Gumpee, 50, walked away without completing her application because of problems with the website. She made an appointment to try again next week.

"I need the health insurance. I need it for doctors' appointments," said Gumpee, who hasn't had insurance in years and goes to the emergency room when she's sick.

Braxton Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Topeka, Kan., resident, left an enrollment event at the city library frustrated. He was unable to verify an online identification after two weeks of trying. A part-time Wal-Mart worker, he didn't have health insurance and wanted to avoid the tax penalty.

"I'm not impressed with it at all," Rodriguez said of the federal government's website.

At a Houston community center, there were immigrants from Ethiopia, Nepal, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other conflict-torn areas, many trying anew after failing to complete applications previously. In addition to needing enrollment help, many needed to wait for interpreters.

Others found the process more bearable.

Michael Carradine, a 20-year-old Sacramento State University student, arrived early at a registration hosted by a union and got subsidized health care in about 45 minutes. Carradine said it was important, but admits it was his mother who got him out of bed and encouraged him to get signed up.

"She was like, 'We don't want to be fined,'" said Carradine, who enrolled in an Anthem Blue Cross plan with a monthly premium of $106 after subsidies.

Allison Webb hadn't had been insured since 2005 before signing up over the weekend at a Community Health Network clinic in Long Island City, N.Y.

"Luckily, I haven't been sick," said Webb, 29, who works full time for a messenger service that does not provide health insurance.

After choosing a comprehensive medical and dental plan that will cost her about $60 per month, Webb can start going to doctors or a dentist in May.

"I'm glad that I don't have to worry about it anymore," she said.

___

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington, D.C., John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., Kelli Kennedy in Miami, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., and Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.

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DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) — Estimated financial losses from the deadly Washington mudslide that has killed at least 24 people have reached $10 million, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday in a letter asking the federal government for a major disaster declaration.

In seeking additional federal help following one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Inslee said about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, Inslee's letter said.

The Snohomish County medical examiner's office said Monday afternoon that it has received a total of 24 victims, and 18 of those have been publicly identified. Previously, the official death toll was 21, with 15 victims identified.

The remains of three additional victims were found Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner's official numbers, Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson told reporters at a Monday evening briefing.

The county sheriff's office released a list of 22 people believed missing following the March 22 slide that destroyed a rural mountainside community northeast of Seattle. That's down from the 30 people officials previously considered missing.

"There's been an exhaustive effort by the detectives to narrow the list down to one that they feel comfortable releasing," Haakenson said.

"These are 22 people whose loved ones are grieving," he said. "We want to do all we can to find them and put some closure in place for their families."

He said there could be some overlap between the list of missing and the handful of victims who have not been positively identified by the medical examiner.

Steve Harris, a division supervisor for the search effort, said Monday that search teams have been learning more about the force of the slide, helping them better locate victims in a debris field that is 70 feet deep in places.

"There's a tremendous amount of force and energy behind this," Harris said of the slide.

Harris said search dogs are the primary tool for finding victims, and searchers are finding human remains four to six times per day. Sometimes crews only find partial remains, which makes the identification process harder.

Inslee's request Monday also seeks federal help with funeral expenses, and mental health care programs for survivors, volunteers, community members and first responders.

He also is asking for access to disaster housing, disaster grants, disaster-related unemployment insurance and crisis counseling programs for those in Snohomish County and for the Stillaguamish, Sauk-Suiattle and Tulalip Indian tribes.

Meanwhile, a dozen members of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders FC soccer team visited Monday with more than 300 children, parents and area residents at the Darrington Community Center.

Players said they signed autographs, tossed footballs and kicked soccer balls in an effort to bring some smiles to an area hit by tragedy.

"To be able to offer a little bit of a release or a distraction from what's going on, I mean that's all you can do," Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith said.

Sounders forward Kenny Cooper said he played pickup soccer with the kids.

One child, 10-year-old Jacob Spelman, wore an autographed bright green hat commemorating the Seahawks' Super Bowl victory as he spoke to reporters after the visit.

"I just feel like they care and that they would like it if we felt better and they came to help us," he said.

___

Baumann reported from Seattle.

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   O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) - A man and woman from New Mexico are facing charges after authorities allegedly found more than 200 pounds of marijuana in their vehicle during a traffic stop.
   Authorities say 38 year old Matthew Serrano and 23 year old Vista Scott are both charged with drug trafficking and attempted trafficking.
   The suspects were in a car stopped for a traffic violation Saturday in O'Fallon, Mo. Police say they noticed a strong marijuana odor and performed a search that uncovered nine large bundles of the drug.
   Both are jailed on $100,000 bond.
 
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 04:13
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   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri drivers would not need to show birth certificates or other source documents when renewing their licenses under legislation passed by the state House.
   The bill was approved with a 135-10 vote on Monday and now heads to the Senate.
   Under the measure, only a reasonable belief of fraud could cause drivers to be required upon renewal to show license clerks documents that prove lawful residence and citizenship.
   Supporters say the bill makes renewals easier and that drivers already had to show source documents to get their license the first time. Some opponents argued the measure could make it easier to commit fraud.
   Republican Rep. Stanley Cox, of Sedalia, is the legislation's sponsor.
 
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 04:09
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