Obamacare Enrollment Nears 1.4 Million in California Exchange

Overall, the state exchange said about 85 percent of enrollees have paid their health premium thus far, so the enrollment tally may drop.

by Chad Terhune, McClatchy News / April 18, 2014
Peter Lee, executive director, Covered California; David Maxwell-Jolly, chief deputy executive director for strategy, California Health Benefit Exchange; Karen Ruiz, CalHEERS project director, California Health Benefit Exchange; Juli Baker, Covered California CTO Jessica Mulholland

Covered California signed up more than 200,000 consumers for Obamacare coverage after extending its enrollment deadline by two weeks, bringing the statewide total to nearly 1.4 million people.

The health insurance exchange gave people until Tuesday to finish enrolling after the state website faltered at the end of March from a crush of last-minute applicants.

By Tuesday, the latest deadline, 50,000 people picked a health plan.

Overall, the state exchange said about 85 percent of enrollees have paid their health premium thus far, so the enrollment tally may drop. It also said Thursday that 88 percent of exchange customers qualified for premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

Another 1.5 million have enrolled or been deemed eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for lower-income people. Enrollment in Medi-Cal continues all year.

The state said it continued to make gains among Latinos after a slow start during the fall. In the first half of April, Latinos accounted for 39 percent of enrollees compared to 18 percent of those signing up in October, November and December.

Overall, Latino enrollment stands at 305,106 people or 28 perent of total enrollment, according to state figures.

The state said people ages 18 to 34 also showed up in larger numbers at the end of open enrollment, as many experts predicted.

That coveted age group represented 29 percent of total California enrollment. Those young people account for 36 percent of people eligible for premium subsidies.

"The people enrolling kept getting younger and more diverse," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.

The state also released for the first time data on how Californians signed up for Obamacare.

It said 41 percent of people enrolled on their own through the state website. Another big group, 40 percent, signed up with a certified insurance agent.

Nine percent worked with a local enrollment counselor and an equal number used the state's call center.

Covered California was faulted early on for a shortage of enrollment counselors and for not publicizing sooner the availability of free, in-person help from agents and counselors.

Many consumers complained about long wait times with the state's call center. In the first week of April, 40 percent of people couldn't get through and gave up their call.

State officials said some people may have gotten the information they needed from a recording while on hold.

"This has not been perfect and it won't be perfect as we go forward," Lee said.

Los Angeles County was the busiest place for enrollment with 400,889 people picking out a health plan. That figure doesn't include Medi-Cal.

The next open enrollment period starts in mid-November. People who move, lose employer coverage or have other qualifying events may be eligible for special enrollment before then.

©2014 the Los Angeles Times