Covered California expects to work through Friday on last-minute applications

Wednesday night -- Jan. 31-- is the deadline to enroll in insurance policies offered through the Covered California marketplace.
Wednesday night -- Jan. 31-- is the deadline to enroll in insurance policies offered through the Covered California marketplace. Lezlie Sterling

If you started an application for health insurance Wednesday with Covered California but didn’t quite get it completed, don’t despair. The leader of Covered California pledged to work through Friday to help residents make final coverage selections for 2018.

Peter V. Lee, speaking at a news conference Wednesday, said: “There are tens of thousands of Californians that shockingly leave it ’til the last minute,” he said. “Right now, we have thousands of people in communities across California – insurance agents, navigators and people at our call center -- ready to help people enroll.”

Insurance agents, nonprofit groups, community organizations and Covered California representatives all will help in the final push to get policies done by Friday. However, if residents didn’t open an application Wednesday by 11:59:59 p.m., they won’t be able to apply for coverage this year under the Affordable Care Act. Lee said that is a gamble that he hopes no Californian takes.

This marked the fifth open enrollment for Covered California. In that time, the rate of the uninsured in the state has dropped to a historic low of 6.8 percent in June of last year, compared with 17 percent in 2013. Lee pointed out that it was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who started the work to establish California’s health benefit exchange, now known as Covered California.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger, with a Democratic legislature, said let’s get ready and let’s create this thing called a health benefit exchange,” Lee said. “It will be independent and help create this new thing called the Affordable Care Act.”

Lee also acknowledged Joe Munso, who died Jan. 10, for his role in birthing Covered California. Munso had retired as a high-ranking civil servant but agreed to return to get the health benefits exchange off the ground. Kim Belshé, a former secretary of Health and Human Services, told The Bee that Munso’s long career in state public service helped him to make things happen: “It was like a daily missile crisis, where every task was really hard but failure was not an option.”

Lee said another key milestone for Covered California was when Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators expanded Medi-Cal, noting that there are now 4 million more Californians with coverage because of that decision. Three legislators and other dignitaries joined Lee and dozens of Covered California employees Wednesday morning in the courtyard of the agency’s headquarters near CalExpo to celebrate the five-year milestone. Lee said the event would attract media who would spread the word that open enrollment was ending Wednesday.

Covered California reported that, as of Jan. 21, 342,000 new consumers had signed up for health insurance, and the pace of new enrollees for the current open-enrollment period remains ahead of last year. It was Jan. 23, 2017, when new sign-ups surpassed 320,000. In addition, officials said, more than 1.2 million existing Covered California members have renewed their coverage for 2018.

George Kalogeropoulos created a software portal called HealthSherpa that insurance agents, certified enrollers and consumers use nationwide to sign up for insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. He said it’s been harder for the federal government to keep insurance companies engaged than it has been for Covered California, and he attributes the state’s success to its comprehensive strategy of using both community organizations and insurance brokers to find uninsured residents. At the same time, he said, Covered California also developed tools to allow individual consumers to shop themselves and evaluate plans.

“When you think about how you find the nation’s uninsured,” Kalogeropoulos said, “there are people whom nonprofits are great at getting to, using navigators and certified enrollers, and those are communities that brokers have historically underserved. Then there are the communities that brokers and agents are good at getting, and you want them engaged and participating in the market so they direct customers into public exchanges. Then there’s also engaging those consumers who are doing self-directed shopping and enrollment.”

To learn more about coverage, visit or call (800) 300-1506. When open enrollment ends, consumers may sign up only if they experience a life-changing event such as losing their health care coverage or having a child. Medi-Cal enrollment, however, is available year-round.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee