Health care sign-ups proceeding, at least in California

Obamacare is open for business, at least in California.

That’s the message state insurance officials are trying to get out, against a backdrop of computer glitches that have disrupted health care sign-ups nationwide since Oct. 1, when the exchanges officially opened.

Because the state operates its own exchange, residents can purchase health insurance directly through Covered California, whose site has not been impacted by the technical issues.

“Thousands are enrolling,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee. “That is the loud and clear drumbeat that California enrollment is working.”

In downtown Sacramento, nearly 1,500 people flooded the Convention Center on Saturday to register for health insurance, in what organizers touted as the largest event of its kind in the region. The health fair was part of a broader statewide outreach blitz that has involved dozens of nonprofits, public agencies and community organizations.

At least 150 people lined up before 9 a.m., when the doors opened. Aside from sign-ups, nonprofits and agencies offered services as varied as low-cost auto insurance and blood pressure tests.

Anthony Diaz-Martinez, 26, waited patiently in line for his turn to apply for health insurance. The postal contractor said he had been without coverage for three years.

“We’re hoping to get a Kaiser plan for the whole family,” he said, pointing to his wife and 2-year-old son.

However, Diaz-Martinez added that he would be less inclined to obtain coverage if he didn’t have a son.

That mentality epitomizes the problem that health care advocates face in California and across the country: convincing younger, healthy folks to enroll in order to offset the costs of those who require more medical care.

The crowd Saturday in Sacramento represented a more mature age group, characterized in large part by graying hair.

“We need to get the young, healthy people to make this work,” said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the California Endowment. “Each day delayed is health denied.”

The health fair was sponsored by the California Endowment, a private health foundation, in collaboration with Covered California and the SEIU-UHW union.

Overall, the atmosphere was festive, with colorful balloons and oversized banners decorating the ballroom. Three hundred volunteers fanned out, checking off paperwork and answering questions.

Translators and multilingual materials were on hand, in recognition of California’s ethnic diversity.

Shortly after noon, Igor Kurmayev, 55, spoke excitedly about the possibility of obtaining health insurance. The former communications installer said his coverage lapsed two years ago, the result of losing his job.

But his goal wasn’t to buy insurance off the market. “I want to get Medi-Cal,” Kurmayev said. “I applied before, but I got turned down. Now, I have no money.”

By day’s end, organizers said they had completed 10 applications for Covered California and that 46 other applications were started. Medi-Cal application numbers were not available.

Tracy Arnold, spokeswoman for the California Endowment, said many people were turned away because of the long registration process.

“It’s a learning experience. The process takes so much to get someone enrolled,” she said.

Covered California is expected Thursday to release total enrollment figures for October.

Lee, the executive director, implored Californians to act quickly, noting that Dec. 15 is the cutoff date for coverage to begin Jan. 1.

“The last thing I want is Californians sitting on their hands. The system is working fine,” he said.