By IAN LOVETT
FEB. 19, 2014
LOS ANGELES — With six weeks left in the open enrollment period for insurance under President Obama’s health care law, more than 828,000 Californians have signed up for private coverage through the state’s online health care exchange, state officials announced Wednesday.
Home to about 15 percent of the nation’s uninsured, California accounted for more than 20 percent of the 3.3 million people who enrolled in plans nationwide under the new law, the Affordable Care Act, during the first four months of open enrollment. About a quarter of the state’s enrollees have been young adults, ages 18 to 34, on par with national rates.
Still, enrollment has lagged among California’s Latinos, who make up more than half of the state’s uninsured population, according to estimates by the California Health Care Almanac. Covered California, the state-run online marketplace for health insurance, did not offer applications in Spanish until the end of December, and a Spanish-language site was dogged by translation errors — just one of a string of problems with the exchange’s website.
Through the end of January, only 21 percent of the people who had enrolled identified themselves as Latino, up slightly from 18 percent at the end of 2013, according to the data released Wednesday.
Latinos in California signed up at a slightly faster rate in January, but Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, said the exchange still needed to improve on Latinos’ enrollment. With six weeks left of open enrollment, Covered California has begun an aggressive campaign to beef up Latino enrollment.
“From absolutely Day 1, Latino enrollment has been probably the No. 1 priority of Covered California.” Mr. Lee said. “Have we executed perfectly? No. We’re getting better as we go, and we’re seeing results right now.”
The health care exchange plans to spend $8.2 million on Spanish-language media during the first three months of this year — more than twice what was spent from October through December. In addition, more than 4,000 Spanish-speaking enrollment counselors and insurance agents have been certified in the state.
“The key element is really promoting in-person enrollment,” Mr. Lee said, adding that the state now had “an extensive ground game in place,” referring to the enrollment counselors.
The exchange had also seen a modest uptick in sign-ups among young adults, whose enrollment is considered essential to keeping insurance premiums down because they are usually healthier and need fewer costly medical services. Mr. Lee also said he expected enrollment among young people to pick up as the March 31 deadline drew nearer.
“We are constantly doing focus groups, and a lot of guys and gals are saying they’re going to wait until the 31st to sign up,” he said. “Waiting until the last minute is certainly not preferred, but it’s not unusual.”
In addition to those who signed up for Covered California health plans, nearly 900,000 people had been deemed eligible for the state’s expandedMedicaid program, known as Medi-Cal.
More than 85 percent of enrollees in Covered California plans through January were eligible for subsidies, but Covered California did not have statistics on how many of the enrollees previously had no health coverage. About 80 percent of those who had signed up for coverage had paid their first month’s premium.