Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Originally, the deadline for people to sign up for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was March 31, but now the deadline has been pushed back to mid-April.

Democrats say delays are meant to help ease people into the health care changes, while republicans say it's more proof that it's not working.

New Orleans was targeted last Thursday by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, as Kathleen Sebelius came in from Washington, urging people to sign up for health care before the March 31 deadline.

The number of uninsured locally is high, but enrollment numbers are still not high enough.

Now the deadline is delayed for a couple of weeks, and in an exclusive one-on-one interview Thursday, we asked the secretary what would happen if the six to seven million people in need of health care, didn't sign up in time.

'What we really need, there is no magic number, is a balanced risk pool. So you need young and healthy to balance the older and sick, and have enough people coming in. We're now at about 30% that are under the age of 34 and that's a good start,' said Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 'Having five million at this point in March and knowing that we will get significantly more by the end of March is a great start. We also are thrilled that younger people are signing up in larger numbers. They had a much larger increase during the last month than any other age group,' she added.

When asked how the three dozen delays are affecting the law's success, Sebelius said, 'This is a very comprehensive law. It's a market that has not been put together for a long time, and what I think we're trying to balance, is getting people insurance, many of whom have never had it, never had choices, been locked out because of preexisting conditions, and having the transition to this new market be a kind of common sense approach, so not abrupt changes back and forth. And that balances, you know. As you look at the law, it's been implemented over the last four years and this is the final phase of it. And we're working closely, not only with insurance companies, but with employers and business owners, listening to people who had coverage before, saying, 'What would be helpful to you as this market changes?' And I think trying to find that balance between making sure consumers have choices and options they've never had, having somebody pay a share of their cost and not having a burden on businesses filling out too much paper work gradually bringing it to the market.'

Republicans have said the numbers would not work financially, saying enrollees are made up of people already on Medicaid not paying out of pocket. Another 20% have signed up but not paid, and only a fraction of the uninsured have signed up.

Some estimates show that only 1 million of the 30 million uninsured are enrolled. The rest of the numbers are those who were dropped from their previous personal policies because of the new law.

'People aren't signing up for it because it costs too much, because these burdensome regulations and mandates in the law are forcing people to lose the good health care they have. I've heard from so many of my constituents in Southeast Louisiana that have lost the good health care they had and are paying even more now for policies they don't even want,' said Congressman Steve Scalise, a republican from the First District.

Local insurance agents have not gotten official word on how the deadline delay will work, but they say people who are buying insurance on the website have to set up an account by March 31.

Then they have until April 15 to finish enrolling before getting a financial penalty.

Anyone buying from an insurance company, not through the exchange, must be signed up by March 31 to avoid the fines.

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