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Obamacare Day One: A Tale of 2 States – California and Virginia

Onita Sanders, a certified application counselor at the Southeastern Virginia Health System, tries to helps Brenda Harrell enroll in health coverage at Enrollfest in Hampton, Va. (Jenny Gold/KHN)

Onita Sanders, a certified application counselor at the Southeastern Virginia Health System, tries to helps Brenda Harrell enroll in health coverage at Enrollfest in Hampton, Va. (Jenny Gold/KHN)

By Sarah Varney and Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

“Keep calm and go live.” Those were the words on the backs of the T-shirts worn by workers at a bustling state health insurance call center in Rancho Cordova yesterday. But if the T-shirts urged calm, the mood was ecstatic and emotional among the architects and key backers who gathered to flip the switch on Covered California, the Golden State’s new health insurance marketplace.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, addressed a cheering crowd in this Sacramento suburb and drew a stark contrast to the grinding politics of Washington, D.C., that shuttered much of the federal government on Monday.

While Washington is talking about shutdown, we’re talking about startup,” said Lee, as he declared an end to the era of a punishing individual insurance market.

“Gone are the days of invasive questions when you apply for insurance about your allergies, your asthma, your diabetes, your cancer. Gone,” said Lee. “You’re never going to be asked that again. Gone are rates based on your answers to those questions.” Continue reading