Obamacare: More Than 3.3 Million Californians Signed Up

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013, the day the marketplace opened. Open enrollment ended Tuesday. (Angela Hart/KQED)

The final numbers are in from the first open enrollment for Covered California. The exchange closed at midnight Tuesday, an extension of two weeks from the original March 31 deadline for those who had tried to enroll but were unsuccessful for technical reasons. Officials reported Thursday that just shy of 1.4 million Californians signed up since October 1.

“The people enrolling continue to get younger, continue to get more diverse and reflect the state of California.” 
An additional 1.9 million people are newly enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for people who are low income, and several hundred thousand more people have been deemed “likely eligible” by the state. They are awaiting final determination of eligibility.

At a press conference in Sacramento Thursday morning, Peter Lee walked through some of the demographics. Covered California had drawn criticism for its flawed outreach to Latinos earlier this year, but the agency had made a “concerted effort to expand and build on outreach,” Lee said. “That hard work has paid off.”

From April 1-15, 39 percent of the sign ups were Latino, Hispanic or Latin origin. Just over 305,000 Latinos are now enrolled, just a bit under 28 percent of all enrollees. That’s up from 21 percent at the end of January. Continue reading

Deadline Tuesday: Final Days to Enroll for 2014 Health Insurance

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Time’s up.

After various extensions, the deadline to finish signing up for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act is here. People have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to complete their applications.

If you don’t have insurance you may have to pay a penalty on your taxes next year — as much as 1 percent of income.

Dana Howard from the state marketplace Covered California says the deadline is real. There will be no more grace periods for people who encounter long lines or technical difficulties on the website. There will be no special dispensation this time for people who wait until the last minute.

“We’re not making up a new policy for people who have not taken this seriously,” Howard said. “This is your health. This is a new law.” Continue reading

In San Francisco, Brain Surgeons Explore Their Practice Through Art

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting "Craniotomy in G Sharp," a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. "It's kind of a self portrait," she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting “Craniotomy in G Sharp,” a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. “It’s kind of a self portrait,” she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

SAN FRANCISCO — Most of the Moscone Center exhibit hall is full of looming medical machines: brain scanners and brain mappers. Men in suits wait for the wandering neurosurgeon to pass by so they can pounce with their pitch for the latest, greatest technology that will change brain surgery forever.

“Patterns repeat themselves over and over in nature. We see that in our work and in anatomy.” 

But back at exhibit booth 630, it’s a different scene. An art show. Paintings and photographs depict abstract interpretations by neurosurgeons of their work, portraits of neurosurgery patients and natural landscapes that offer a striking resemblance to the human brain.

“Music, art, the visual, the senses — matches and melds with medicine,” says Dr. Katherine Ko, a neurosurgeon from New York who curated the show. “We like to see that left brain, right brain cross over. It’s a respite where you don’t have to concentrate. You can just let your eyes roam.” Continue reading

San Francisco’s Elderly Chinese Suffer from Nursing Home Closure

Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital closed in February. (Vinnie Tong/KQED)

The Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital was home to 35 elderly Chinese immigrants. Only two found a new place in San Francisco. Some have passed away since the move.  (Vinnie Tong/KQED)

By Vinnee Tong

Too often people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about who’s going to take care of them at the end of their life.

It’s not hard to imagine why: It’s scary and stirs up all kinds of emotion.

People appreciated Mission Bay because it was familiar, geared to its Chinese-speaking residents.

At the same time, financial pressures can make the whole topic even harder to deal with. For starters, if you need a bed in a home with full-time care, the decent ones are hard to find and cost a lot.

That’s why the closure of one small place in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood is being felt so acutely. The Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital served a community of elderly Chinese, most of whom didn’t speak English. Now the building’s been sold, its occupants scattered, and the city’s supply of affordable nursing home beds is even smaller. Continue reading

California ‘Death with Dignity’ Advocates Launch New Campaign

Jennifer Glass of San Mateo, undergoing chemotherapy last year for lung cancer. (Courtesy: Mary Thomas)

Jennifer Glass of San Mateo, undergoing chemotherapy last year for lung cancer. (Courtesy: Mary Thomas)

A new campaign is underway to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California. Advocates launched a series of online ads last week to begin raising awareness. Still, it could take years for the effort to yield any results.

“Having choice helps me feel I have some control.” 

Since the early 1990s, lawmakers and activists have tried and failed several times to pass a death with dignity law in California. Under such a law doctors could prescribe lethal medications to patients who are terminally ill. Oregon and Washington permit the practice.

“California is a large state. It’s a politically complicated state,” says Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices. Her advocacy group is leading the effort to try again to pass a law through the legislature or ballot proposition that would make aid in dying accessible in California. Continue reading

Covered California Now Above 1.2 Million Enrollees — with More Coming

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee testified before Congress Thursday morning. He used his 5-minutes to give a quick recap of what’s gone right on the nation’s biggest state-based exchange.

First, Lee released numbers of where Covered California stands as of Monday, the day open enrollment formally ended (although those who could not finish due to technical problems have until April 15 to finish):

  • 1.2 million people enrolled in Covered California
  • 1.9 million newly-enrolled in Medi-Cal
  • 800,000 people are likely eligible for Medi-Cal but waiting to be confirmed

“This is close to four million Californians,” Lee told the House Committee on Oversight Government Reform. “As of three days ago, California had brought coverage to more than 50 percent of those subsidy-eligible in the exchange.” Continue reading

Why Some Don’t Pay Their Covered California Premium: It’s Not What You Think

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A new analysis finds that many people who signed up for a Covered California plan are likely to drop the coverage for a good reason: they found insurance elsewhere.

Researchers at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center released estimates Wednesday showing that about 20 percent of Covered California enrollees are expected to leave the program because they found a job that offers health insurance. Another 20 percent will see their incomes fall and become eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income.

In addition to the 40 percent of enrollees who move to Medi-Cal or job-based insurance, between 2 and 8 percent of those who sign up for Covered California are estimated to become uninsured, the analysis noted.

20 percent of Covered California enrollees are estimated to move to job-based insurance over the year.
This process — “churn” to those who study health insurance — is well-known in the Medi-Cal and individual insurance market.

Between 53 and 58 percent of Covered California enrollees are expected to stay in a Covered California plan for 12 months, according to the report. This analysis is consistent with a Kaiser Family Foundation study published earlier this year which found that of people who enrolled in an individual insurance plan in 2010, about 48 percent were still in the individual market two years later. Continue reading

Covered California Extends Deadline — With Caveats

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

By Lisa Aliferis and April Dembosky

Because of what it termed a “dramatic spike” in traffic, Covered California announced late Monday that it would extend the March 31 deadline to enroll in a health insurance plan. But the extension has certain limitations.

  • Anyone who has not been able to get on the website for technical reason can apply in person or through the Covered California call center by April 15
  • Anyone who starts an application by midnight Monday (March 31) has until April 15 to finish, either online or in person (this was previously announced)
  • Anyone who is filing a paper application must mail it today; it must be postmarked March 31 — but Covered California strongly encourages people to apply in person as opposed to mailing your application

For consumers who complete an application and select a plan by 11:59pm April 15, insurance will take effect May 1. Continue reading

Covered California Disables Part of Site to Handle Traffic

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Update 7pm: Covered California extended the deadline to sign up for a health insurance plan — with some caveats.

Original Post:

Covered California is seeing “truly unprecedented enrollment,” says executive director Peter Lee. Sunday was the busiest day ever — that includes the days before the last big deadline in December. Just over 500,000 people enrolled in a Covered California plan by Dec 31, 2013. Covered California had reached the 1 million mark earlier in March. More than 1.2 million people had signed up for a plan as of 2am Monday morning. Nearly 400,000 people started applications in the last week.

To help keep the website running in the face of the surging traffic, Covered California is taking parts of it that don’t have to do specifically with enrollment offline. The “preview plans” function is being disabled, although people can still use “shop and compare.”

If traffic gets very high, individuals might find themselves logged out once they have started their application — but before they have picked a health insurance plan. “We know that’s not ideal, but we want to make sure the people that want to enroll can get in the system,” Lee says. Continue reading

California Gets an ‘F’ for Health Care Price Transparency

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

California — and 44 other states — received failing grades in a new analysis on transparency of health care prices. The report comes from Berkeley-based Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR), and it shows that consumers remain pretty much in the dark if they want to figure out, in advance, what a treatment or procedure will cost.

“Very few states have done anything meaningful to help consumers understand what their health care costs were going to be,” said Suzanne Delbanco, executive director of the organization.

CPR looked primarily at laws and regulations around price transparency, as well as whether a state had a consumer-facing website where people could easily look up price information.

While California has taken “important symbolic steps” by passing price transparency laws, Delbanco said, “what hasn’t happened is turning that information into something that’s useful to consumers.” Continue reading