Covered CA signups fall short of goal

sacramento covered californiaAmid a shifting, uncertain health care landscape, Covered California’s latest round of enrollments fell short of administrators’ goals. In a reflection of larger uncertainties nationwide, the Golden State’s Obamacare exchange missed its mark due to factors ranging from bureaucratic glitches to the availability of Medi-Cal.

Like the national Obamacare system as a whole, Covered CA has launched successfully, but has yet to set clear expectations for the kind of costs and services that enrollees — and officeholders — will have to contend with.

With Florida now exceeding California in Obamacare signups, some of the pressure is off of Covered CA’s executives to deliver chart-topping numbers to keep the national system afloat.

“Florida’s roughly 1.6 million enrollees include both first time enrollees and some of the nearly 1 million Floridians who enrolled last year,” Fox News Latino reported. “California led the country last year with 1.2 million consumers, but lagged behind this year with a total of 1.4 million — 300,000 fewer than the state’s goal.”

Meanwhile, as The Hill observed, signups nationwide have hit some 10 million — “higher than the Obama administration’s goal of 9.1 million, though meeting that goal is dependent on people paying their premiums.”

Despite the shortfall, Peter Lee, Covered CA’s executive director, called the Golden State’s enrollments “a huge number, a number we’re proud of,” according to The Hill.

The Times also reported Lee saying, “It isn’t so much losing people as getting a better sense of the inflow and outflow on a month-to-month basis.”

According to Times, Lee “explained that last year’s projections for how many people would maintain coverage were too high, which he attributed to people dropping out of the exchange to get insurance at a new job or through Medicaid.”

As recently reported, Medi-Cal — California’s name for its Medicaid program for the poor — has seen explosive growth since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act began.

Competing against itself

Critics have argued that Obamacare has undermined its own state exchange system by pushing enrollees with disqualified private health plans into Medicaid/Medi-Cal. As Dr. Jeffrey Singer noted last year in The Wall Street Journal:

“A recent Boston University/Harvard Medical School study suggests that up to 80 percent of people participating in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion have been shifted off their private insurance. These patients’ plans — that they liked, and were told they could keep — did not meet Affordable Care Act requirements, and were wiped out. offered them Medicaid.”

The practical effect, in other words, was that the Affordable Care Act competed against itself, shifting millions of potential state exchange participants away from plans issued by health care companies and onto government-entitlement care.

Rolling deadlines

Meanwhile, Covered CA executives have begun to discuss the prospect of new signup windows, created to compensate for adverse circumstances facing enrollees and would-be enrollees., the signup portal bedeviled by failure during Obamacare’s first enrollment period, offered many users more glitches this time around.

The website, IBT reported, “had problems with the income verification portion of the sign-up process, and officials spent about six hours working on the issue before it was fixed. Some state exchanges reported similar issues. Katie Hill, the Department of Health and Human Services press secretary, explained the problem as being due to ‘intermittent issues with external verification sources.'”

That led to deadline extensions in California and across the country. Sunday, Feb. 15, was the Covered CA enrollment deadline. However, due to the problems, for those who already have begun the enrollment process, the deadline was extended another week, to Feb. 22.

Tax penalty

The website glitches presented a special problem because of a late rush among enrollees to avoid the first instance of Obamacare’s so-called “tax penalty” for failing to possess health insurance.

“The prospect of paying a federal tax penalty for being uninsured drove much of the last-minute enrollment, according to California officials, enrollment counselors and insurance agents,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “About 36,000 Californians signed up Sunday compared with 13,000 one day last week.”

Lee, reported the Times, explained his lingering concerns over public uncertainty about the penalty had led him to consider “a special enrollment period for people subject to those federal fines.”

Such a move would put California in line with a broader agenda being pursued by some members of Congress who want the federal government to introduce new signup periods as well.

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