By Carla Anderson
April 3, 2014
Covered California announced that 1,221,727 Californians signed up for commercial health insurance as of March 31. About 416,000 of signups occurred in March alone. Covered California also reported age and race breakouts. About 34 percent of those purchasing health policies were 34 years old or younger, while about 25 percent were in the 55-to-64 bracket. Thirty-six percent were white, 26 percent Latino, and 22 percent Asian. Covered California, which had been criticized for lagging Latino enrollment, stepped up outreach efforts significantly. Those efforts paid off, with Latinos comprising 36 percent of enrollment in March, compared to 18 percent during the first three months of open enrollment.
Covered California granted a limited extension for people who were unable to complete their applications by March 31. Those who partially completed their online application by 11:59 p.m. on March 31 have until 11:59 p.m. on April 15 to complete the application and pick a health plan. A press release emphasizes the specific steps consumers must follow to take advantage of the extra time.
California is also seeing enrollment growth in Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program. Since Oct. 1, about 1.9 million Californians have enrolled or been found likely eligible for Medi-Cal since October. About 1.1 million applied through the marketplace or county offices, with the balance working through the California Department of Health Care Service. Enrollment for Medicaid or CHIP continues throughout the year.
While Covered California had the nation’s most successful open enrollment period in terms of the number of signups, it has not gone without technical problems. Online enrollment capabilities were unavailable for nearly a week in mid-February. Wait times for customer service averaged more than 40 minutes during various periods in March. 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 will 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 Feb. 28, 1,073 small employers covering 8,188 people had enrolled through the SHOP.
Eleven insurers sold individual coverage through Covered California:
Not all insurers were available in all counties. Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California and Health Net — already the biggest players in the California market — attracted the vast majority of consumers during the first open enrollment period. Even so, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that Covered California has made the state’s individual insurance market more competitive.
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