Covered CA gains only modest signups in ‘final hours’

Covered CA gains only modest signups in ‘final hours’

Covered California front page, Oct. 3, 2013As the last blanket deadline extension arrived, late signups slowed down on Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange.

Difficulties brought on by the website’s inability to process a wave of applicants gave officials an opportunity to push back the original March 31 deadline. That, in turn, caused exchange administrators to require applicants to work with a “certified enrollment counselor” to navigate the often ponderous process.

During the two-week delay that followed this month, politicians and activists favoring the health care law scrambled to drum up more support. But in contrast to the March surge of online activity, the Covered California exchange added only about 70,000 new enrollees over the past two weeks.

Peter Lee, executive director of the exchange, emphasized an increase in Latino signups during the final reprieve, calling the uptick “dramatic.” That’s relative, however, to California’s previous numbers for the group, which fell short of expectations set by lawmakers such as state Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona.

Proposed reform

The scope of the problem drove Torres to go public with a new reform plan in the San Jose Mercury News. She wrote that her proposed legislation, Senate Bill 972, “would allow leaders with expertise in marketing, customer service, information technology management and management information systems to serve on Covered California’s board of directors. It would also expand the board from five to seven members to provide additional oversight and to better assure the membership reflects the state’s diversity in terms of expertise and demographics.”

Torres assumed that Latinos are key because the health exchange needs their healthy young people to drive down costs. Yet many uninsured Latinos targeted for Obamacare outreach in California are still outside the system because they immigrated illegally. In one Santa Clara County clinic, an estimated one third of visitors lacked citizenship documentation, according to the California Health Report.

Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, you must be a U.S. citizen to get insurance through the state exchanges set up in accordance with the law.

Loopholes remain

Aiming to add as many young and uninsured citizens as possible, Covered California stressed that this time there really wouldn’t be another chance to register. In a remark making the rounds in the media, exchange spokesman Larry Hicks said Californians “have had since October to enroll. These are the final hours. If they don’t sign up by Tuesday [April 15], they likely won’t have insurance for the rest of the year.”

Ironically, however, another legal loophole led analysts to expect yet another round of late signups. According to the Covered California website, if Californians experience a “qualifying life event,” they can sign up through the exchange up to 60 days after the event takes place, whenever it happens.

The criteria for qualifying events are very broad. They range from rare occurrences like marriage, adoption and release from prison to more common ones like loss of coverage and change in income. Covered California even promises to grant special enrollment “on a case-by-case basis.”

Californians may now face the last official deadline for Obamacare signups. But the slow and cumbersome process of enrollment has only just begun.

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