Covered California Closing in on One Million Mark

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Update 1:00 p.m. Thursday:

Covered California reported Thursday that 923,832 people have signed up for a health insurance plan through its agency through March 9. With 18 days left in open enrollment and an expected surge predicted as the final March 31 deadline comes near, the one million enrollment mark appears within reach.

20,000 people are starting applications every day on Covered California.
In addition to the enrollment on Covered California, another 1.1 million people who have applied throughout the marketplace were determined likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal. Roughly another million people are newly enrolled in Medi-Cal because they transferred in from the Low Income Health Program on Jan. 1 or through other local and statewide efforts.

“When you take these numbers together and add the first nine days of March,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, “it means more than 3 million Californians have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.”

With just over two weeks left in open enrollment, Lee says 20,000 people are starting applications every day on the website, and roughly 10,000 people a day are finalizing enrollment by picking a plan.

“These are strong numbers,” Lee said.

Enrollment of Latinos, Young Adults, Still Lags

With more than 900,000 enrollees so far, Covered California has already exceeded a benchmark of 560,000 enrollments by Mar. 31. But enrollment from some groups is lagging, in particular Latinos and young adults.

Enrollment of young adults, people ages 18-34, has ticked up ever so slightly, to 26.5 percent versus 26 percent in mid-February. While this number reflects their representation in the population, it is below their representation in the pool of those eligible for subsidies. Since younger people are more likely to be uninsured, they make up 41 percent of the people Covered California needs to attract. 

Related: KQED’s Obamacare Guide — Just for Californians

Latino enrollment is also climbing, but still lags their representation in the population. Through Feb. 28, 22 percent of Covered California enrollees self-identified as Latino, compared to 38 percent of the population — and 57 percent of the uninsured. Latino enrollment was 19 percent as of Dec. 31 and 20 percent in mid-February.

Interestingly, the share of young adults and Latinos who have signed up for Medi-Cal is much higher. Through Feb. 28, 38 percent of those likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal are Latino; 35 percent are 18-34.

Meanwhile, nearly 23 percent of the Covered California enrollees are Asian while their representation in the population is about 14 percent.

March 31 Deadline to Enroll is Firm

Lee stressed that the Mar. 31 deadline will not change. “California will not be extending the deadline,” he said and encouraged people to sign up as soon as possible and not wait until the last minute. He said that Covered California has worked to “dramatically increase capacity” of both servers and call center employees to handle the traffic as Mar. 31 draws closer, “but there’s no way to expand capacity to handle 5 million people trying to enroll in one day.”

One big unknown is the specific impact on the uninsured in California. There is no question in the application that specifically asks if an applicant has been uninsured. Lee said that Covered California is planning work with the California Health Insurance Survey to survey on a broad population level.

But with 3 million Californians enrolled in Covered California, Medi-Cal or likely eligible for Medi-Cal, both Lee and Toby Douglas, director of the California Department of Health Care Services, were optimistic. “We believe this is having a significant impact on the rate of the uninsured,” Douglas said.

 

 

Original Post:

As the March 31 deadline to sign up for a health insurance plan draws closer, Covered California executive director Peter Lee reports that 20,000 Californians are starting applications every day and about half of them are going on to pick a plan.

His remarks came in a call with reporters that included several other directors of state-based marketplaces. A national advocacy group, Families USA, organized the call.

On Tuesday, the federal Department of Health and Human Services released enrollment numbers through the end of February. About 4.2 million people have selected plans nationwide, and nearly 870,000 of them are in California.

Covered California is expected to release more specifics of enrollment in the state later Thursday.

KQED Health Editor Lisa Aliferis joined Rachael Myrow on The California Report Thursday morning to talk about what people need to know as the deadline to enroll approaches.

If people do not enroll by March 31, Aliferis said, they are looking at the strong likelihood of having a pay a penalty when they file their taxes next year. The penalty is either $95 or 1 percent of income — whichever is greater. Many people focus on the $95 amount, but someone with an income of $35,000, for example, would pay a penalty closer to $350. In addition, every member of a family pays the penalty, either 1 percent of household income or $95 per adult not insured or $47.50 for each child.

Those who are eligible for a subsidy can only get the subsidy by signing up for a plan on Covered California. While people not eligible for subsidies may sign up on Covered California, they can also purchase directly from a plan or visit a private marketplace, such as ehealthinsurance.com.

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