Pressure is on Covered California counselors to finish applications

When Covered California announced that it would give consumers two extra weeks to complete their online health insurance applications, many Californians, including Merced residents, were relieved. This announcement created pressure, however, for enrollment counselors who now have to complete hundreds of unfinished applications by April 15.

After learning consumers were unable to start their online application by March 31 because of technical difficulties, Covered California decided it would give people additional time to enroll in a health care plan and avoid the penalty of up to 1 percent of annual income. However, enrollment between now and April 15 must be completed with the help of a certified assistant, such as an enrollment counselor, a county eligibility worker or an insurance agent.

According to Mary-Michal Rawling, community program health manager at Golden Valley Health Centers, enrollment counselors were swamped with consumers on the final day of enrollment. When the web portal experienced difficulties, counselors were forced to reschedule appointments with people to complete applications at a later date.

“There was definitely an element of frustration because the website and the phone lines were down, so (enrollment counselors) did not have the tools necessary to help,” Rawling said. “Unfortunately, people have to take days off work and rearrange their busy schedules to come back and complete their application.”

According to Rawling, one enrollment counselor can see from eight to 10 people in a day, with appointments taking up to an hour for each individual or family.

Similarly, enrollment counselors at Merced’s Healthy House Within a MATCH Coalition, who enrolled about 140 households the weekend before deadline, have had to call back almost two-thirds of the consumers they helped.

Healthy House Executive Director Candice Adam-Medefind, said enrollment counselors at Healthy House have had to work late hours to accommodate people attempting to enroll. According to her, the extension has given counselors some breathing room to help as many people as possible, but she thinks they may face the same problem again April 15 when people rush to meet the new deadline.

Adam-Medefind believes the last-minute surge in enrollment could have been reduced if outreach and education events offered enrollment opportunities rather than just information.

“I think it has to be a one-stop shop. We had so many local agencies doing outreach and education events; that was a waste,” said Adam-Medefind. “We had people come in to our office who thought they were enrolled in a plan because they attended one of these events; what we needed is agencies doing actual enrollments.”

Covered California announced Thursday that enrollment in private health insurance plans hit 1,221,727 through March 31. March had the highest number of sign-ups, with more than 416,000 people enrolling in a health insurance plan. Medi-Cal enrolled 1.9 million people through the end of March. With two extra weeks to complete applications, the final number of enrollments is expected to be much higher.

According to its public information officer, Anne Gonzales, Covered California is not capturing daily numbers on applications or enrollment, but is evaluating contingency plans for April 15.

“We’re confident that individuals who started their applications online before the March 31 deadline will have plenty of time to complete them,” said Gonzales. “And those who couldn’t get through in the final days before the deadline are taking this time to work with an agent, counselor or service center representative to get them enrolled.”