Calif. health exchange numbers grow after slow first month (UPDATE) |

Calif. health exchange numbers grow after slow first month (UPDATE)

In this Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Putting a statistic on disappointment, the Obama administration revealed Wednesday, Nov. 13, that fewer than 27,000 people signed up for private health insurance last month in the 36 states relying on a problem-filled federal website. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

California’s health insurance exchange led the nation in enrollments during its inaugural month of operation, but the 35,000 tentative sign-ups announced Wednesday, including more than 300 from Nevada County, represent just a fraction of the eventual goal.

Covered California, the agency steering the health overhaul in the state, aims to sign up as many as 2.2 million people by the end of next year, either in private insurance coverage or Medicaid services for the needy. For those seeking coverage on the open market, the agency will need to quickly escalate enrollments to hit that target.

However, the number of enrollees has nearly doubled in the first two weeks of November, reported the Sacramento Bee. Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee, who sought to tamp down expectations for October, told the Bee that 30,830 customers enrolled in the exchange in the first month and another 29,000 signed up through Tuesday.

“I think that a piece of what they are seeing in that increase is (that) at the state level they have been working to get the online system to work better,” said Nicole Pollack, director of Nevada County’s social services department.

“Now we can say come on, call or go online. It’s time to enroll now. The systems are working better. The payment option is now available. The functionality has improved greatly.”
Nicole Pollack
director of Nevada County’s social services department.

“There were definitely some problems with Covered California initially,” Pollack said. “Some of those applications that were in the queue are coming through now, and also the public is having more confidence in the system because there are success stories.”

California counts nearly 7 million people without health coverage. An estimated 2.3 million are expected to enroll in a health plan through the new agency, known as Covered California, by 2017.

That’s according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provided the first glimpse into the state’s health care operations, which faces a monumental task to reach millions of people without insurance and sway them to sign up under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The report, covering the start of open enrollment on Oct. 1 through Nov. 2, also showed that about 80,000 lower-income people would be eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage under another prong of the overhaul.

The 35,000 figure was defined in the federal report as the number of people who have “selected” a plan through the insurance exchange. According to HHS, that means the number of people who have chosen a specific insurance plan, whether or not they have actually followed through and begun paying the premium for it.

“The paltry participation numbers for the California exchange, like the Federal Healthcare exchange,, are clearly insufficient to build a sustainable government-run health care system,” said State Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), a member of the Senate Health Committee, whose district encompasses part of Nevada County.

“This is shameful. ‘Obamacare’ has resulted in more people losing their healthcare insurance than gained,” Nielsen said. “This is true in California, and across America.”

Covered California said sign-ups have accelerated since October, to about 2,400 people a day so far this month.

“Locally, we’ve seen better success in enrolling people in health care coverage,” Pollack said.

In first 25 days of October, 317 Nevada County households applied online or via phone, Pollack said. Of those applications, 205 have been approved for some type of insurance program. Covered California offers a variety of policies, some of which are subsidized according to income levels, and some of which are not.

The applications of the other 112 households were likely pending until the process is finalized, Pollack said.

“While the demand has not increased, the success rate has,” Pollack said.

Where Nevada County officials were initially hesitant to strongly entice people to sign up as they learned the new system and its functionalities, Pollack said they now have a firm grasp on Covered California.

“Now we can say come on, call or go online. It’s time to enroll now. The systems are working better,” she said. “The payment option is now available. The functionality has improved greatly.”

Pollack expects Covered California to release county-specific enrollment numbers for the first part of November in the coming week.

The county will hold a public forum Monday on Covered California “to describe health insurance coverage, the different methods of enrollment and for the public to ask questions,” Pollack said.

The forum will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Board of Supervisor’s Chambers of the Eric Rood Administrative Center, located at 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City.

The Associated Press’ Juliet Williams and Michael R. Blood contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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