Politics & Government

State seeing enrollment boost as first health insurance deadline nears

The number of Californians getting coverage under the new federal health care law has surged this week, just days before the first key deadline for the program, officials from Covered California said Thursday.

More than 53,500 customers selected health coverage plans in a three-day period this week – about 60 percent more than in the entire month of October, when the exchange opened for business.

Customers who want their coverage for doctors’ appointments and prescription drugs to start next month must select plans by Monday and pay their first premium by Jan. 6. Consumers who need help should visit a certified insurance agent or see their local certified enrollment counselor, Executive Director Peter V. Lee said in a conference call Thursday.

Health exchange officials cautioned that this week’s signup figure was only preliminary and includes 20,506 customers Wednesday, 19,351 Tuesday and 13,653 Monday,

Lee said the steep increases illustrate how hundreds of thousands of residents are “anxious, excited and determined to get coverage.”

He acknowledged the early struggles in reaching Latinos and Spanish-speaking residents, but said officials in recent days doubled their spending on outreach to Latinos and in the Los Angeles market after preliminary data showed 88 percent of those enrolling in coverage were doing so in English.

The exchange has not projected monthly enrollment goals. However, Lee has said he wants to sign up between 500,000 and 700,000 customers eligible for subsidies by the end of the initial enrollment period March 31.

“Given the rate at which people are applying, I think we could easily exceed those projections, but we aren’t done,” he said.

The exchange previously reported 109,296 enrollments from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30. The next report is scheduled for sometime in January, he said.

To handle the increase in activity, the exchange’s call center hours will be extended to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

At the same time, officials are warning that that the online portal and call centers may be ill-equipped to handle every request given the time crunch. To accommodate everyone, the exchange said it would honor customers who started applications on Monday even if they were not processed by the deadline.

The first open enrollment period runs through March 31.