By Megan Burks
Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, is giving Californians until Sunday to complete their applications for January coverage.
Previously set for Dec. 15, the deadline is just for those who have started applications and want their coverage to go into effect at the first of the year.
Consumers can continue signing up for health insurance through Feb. 15, when open enrollment ends. Those who are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, can enroll year-around.
A spokeswoman for the exchange said Tuesday there are still many applicants who have not yet finished the enrollment process. As of Dec. 3, about 40 percent of the 81,287 people the exchange approved for coverage had not taken the final step of choosing a plan.
Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee told the Los Angeles Times many of those signing up haven’t had insurance before and could need extra assistance “crossing the finish line.” Though the exchange added more than 11,000 insurance agents and enrollment counselors to its roster this year, their calendars have been booked solid, he said.
But Gary Rotto, director of health policy and strategic communications for the Council of Community Clinics, said San Diego enrollment counselors have seen a smooth, steady stream of applicants since open enrollment began Nov. 15.
“We were very slow last year because there was a huge education process that we needed to go through. Now people have experienced that, seen ads and talked to people who are already a part of Covered California or Medi-Cal,” Rotto said. “So when open enrollment opened this year, people were ready and really knew what this would look like and who to go to. You were able to see, instead of a ramping up like you saw last year, a very steady flow throughout the open enrollment period. And we think that that’s going to continue.”
But Rotto said local enrollment specialists weren’t notified of the extension in time to set up special hours this weekend.
“With the Covered California call center closed (Sundays), and with the majority of our clinics closed because we did not have a heads up that there would be an extension, it will be next to impossible for people to get help on Sunday,” Rotto said. “I can’t emphasize enough that people need to get the help this week during the week. Make their call now, even to get an appointment later in the week.”
Rotto said San Diegans can call 2-1-1 or find enrollment help on the Council of Community Clinics website.
Despite word of the extension not getting to San Diego, the exchange has remedied many of the glitches that mired its first enrollment period.
The tally of Californians who successfully enrolled in Covered California or Medi-Cal between Nov. 15 and Dec. 3 was 290,796. That’s about 60 percent more applicants than during the first month of open enrollment in 2013. The majority this time around – 160,557 – qualified for Medi-Cal.
In addition to adding to their ranks of community-based professionals who can assist applicants in person, the exchange added some 1,700 staff to its service center and is poised to add more in preparation for a surge of latecomers in February.