By Carla Anderson
February 28, 2014
Enrollment continues to climb on Covered California. Through mid-February, more than 828,600 Californians selected a private health plan. California is also seeing enrollment growth in Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program. Since Oct. 1, about 1.6 million Californians have enrolled or been found likely eligible for Medi-Cal since October (about 877,000 applied through the marketplace, with the balance working through the California Department of Health Care Services).
Enrollment for private insurance in 2014 continues through March 31, and another enrollment surge is expected in the second half of March. Policies purchased by the 15th of the month will be effective the first day of the following month. Individuals who remain uninsured after March may face a tax penalty of $95 or one percent of income, whichever is greater. Enrollment for Medicaid or CHIP continues throughout the year.
While Covered California is the nation’s most successful marketplaces in terms of enrollment, it is not without technical problems. Online enrollment capabilities were unavailable for nearly a week in mid-February. Wait times for customer service have been long, with callers waiting an average of 50 during the week ended Feb. 15. To address the customer service issues, Covered California is nearly doubling its call center staff from 500 to 900, adding phone lines, expanding live chat functionality, and expanding Spanish language accessibility in the form of more Spanish-speaking representatives and improved Spanish-language Web pages. The on-line physician directory has also been an issue for Covered California. The directory lets consumers see which doctors participate in a health plan’s network. Errors in the directory forced California to remove the on-line tool for several weeks in October and again in February. Covered California says it is working on the directory, but hasn’t said if or when the online directory may be restored.
The Small Employer Health Options Program (SHOP), the marketplace for small businesses, has also experienced difficulties. Online enrollment capabilities were delayed until late November, nearly two months after individual enrollment began. As the “SHOP portal was not meeting the needs of agents or small employers,” according to a Covered California press release, it was taken offline in mid-February and will be unavailable until sometime in the fall. In the meantime, small employers can use paper applications, working with an agent or the SHOP Service Center. The Service Center is available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-877-453-9198. As of Jan. 31, 571 small employers covering 4,490 people had enrolled through the SHOP.
Eleven insurers are selling individual coverage through Covered California:
Not all insurers are available in all counties.
Small businesses can also shop for insurance on the exchange. In early December, Covered California released enhanced functionality that enabled small businesses to get price quotes and complete enrollment through the website.
While critics of Obamacare predicted premiums would skyrocket, that hasn’t happened in California. Health plans submitted rates that were 29 percent below to just 2 percent above what equivalent policies cost in 2013. According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the average cost for a bronze plan —the lowest-cost option — in California is $278 a month. The national average for a bronze policy is $249 a month.
Covered California is expected to help more than 2.3 million state residents obtain health coverage by 2017. Covered California has exceeded its first-year enrollment goal, which was to sign up 500,000 people for private health plans by the end of March 2014.
California Health Benefit Exchange
Information about exchange planning and development
State Exchange Profile: California
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of California’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Let your California governor and legislators know how you feel about the state’s proposed health insurance exchange.California Governor Jerry Brown