Margaret Rhode didn’t procrastinate.
As soon as enrollment for health insurance plans began in October, she was on the Covered California website, seeking coverage for her 52-year-old son. Applying online, however, turned out to be more complicated than she had anticipated.
“I tried to apply online and it wouldn’t let me,” Rhode said, “I was able to connect over the phone and they told me the site was down, try again later.”
Rhode, a Rancho Cordova resident, finally gave up on the website and submitted a paper application in mid-November for a Blue Shield policy for her son.
Since then, silence.
“I haven’t received any acknowledgement” from Covered California or Blue Shield, Rhode said. “I don’t even know how they’re supposed to contact me.”
Californians had until Dec. 23 to apply for health insurance through Covered California or the open market if they wanted coverage to begin Jan. 1.
Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange that was created as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, announced that more than 400,000 residents had enrolled as of Dec. 23, many of them thrilled to have insurance for the first time.
Then there are those Californians who couldn’t even finish the application process, thwarted by website glitches and swamped phone lines and the inability to find in-person help. Others, like Rhode, think they enrolled, but never received confirmation of the transaction.
Dennis Kuklis of Granite Bay initially submitted his application through the Covered California website a week before the deadline. When the retiree didn’t receive confirmation from anyone, he went back to the website to try again.
“I didn’t hear anything from Covered California,” said Kuklis, 57. “At this point, as best as I can tell, we have completed the process and are just waiting to be billed by Kaiser.”
Covered California says those who apply online should be able to check the status of their application by accessing their account on the website.
Kuklis said he has checked, but still can’t find it. “The website sure doesn’t make it easy,” he added.
Those who submitted paper applications should receive confirmation by mail, as well as a bill for their monthly premium, directly from the insurance company they chose, Covered California says.
But how long should that take?
“There is no hard and fast rule,” said Lizelda Lopez of Covered California. “But if someone submits an application – in whatever form – by (the deadline), they will have coverage effective January 1, 2014.”
Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, recently extended the promise of Jan. 1 coverage even to those who applied on deadline day.
“If someone starts the application (on Dec. 23), and through no fault of their own can’t get through, we’re going to get them across the finish line,” Lee said.
Covered California will determine such “good-faith” efforts on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Fadia Desmond of Sacramento didn’t wait for the deadline.
Desmond applied online in early November but didn’t hear anything from Covered California until after Thanksgiving, when she was asked to submit a hard copy of her tax return. She faxed it immediately, and again, heard nothing back. In early December, she decided to call Covered California for confirmation.
“I was on hold 50 minutes, but it was worth it,” said Desmond, 41, an education professor at Walden University, an online-only school. “The agent really went above and beyond. I was in awe of how much she knew, how much information she had.”
For Desmond, the peace of mind was worth the wait.
“I can actually make New Year’s plans now, knowing I’m covered,” Desmond said, laughing.
Others may not have that assurance going into 2014.
This year’s special open-enrollment period ends March 31, 2014. However, the later an applicant signs up, the longer the wait for coverage to start.
Rhode tried three times to call Covered California to determine the status of her son’s application. But each call was met by a 30-minute wait, and she eventually hung up.
Now, with the deadline past, she is unsure of where she stands.
“It’s really frustrating,” Rhode said, “When are they going to get to it?”
The CHCF Center for Health Reporting is funded by the nonprofit, nonpartisan California HealthCare Foundation.