Only a few days remain for uninsured state residents to enroll in a Covered California health care plan

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comApril 11, 2014 

Covered California officials are reminding uninsured state residents that they have only a few days left to contact a certified enrollment counselor and enroll in a health coverage plan.

The original deadline to enroll in coverage through the state’s health benefit exchange was March 31. But a surge in people wishing to enroll flooded the Covered California online system, causing technical issues that prevented many people from meeting the deadline.

Covered California responded by giving consumers until Tuesday to contact a certified enrollment expert and complete the online application for coverage that will begin May 1.

To qualify for the extension, applicants must explain that they attempted to enroll before March 31 and were unable to get through to the website. To avoid the tax penalty for lack of insurance, consumers must pay their premium by the payment deadline issued by insurance companies.

“We recognize that people may not have been able to get through, either by phone or on their computer, to enroll by the March 31 deadline, so we are allowing them to get the help of an assister to cross the finish line,” Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said in a statement. “Now, we are closing in on the April 15 deadline, and we are working to be sure everyone who wants and needs insurance will complete the process in time. However, we are not developing any policies at this time for any unforeseen technical trouble on April 15.”

In a media conference call Thursday, Lee said that about 70,000 additional Californians had enrolled in a health care plan between April 1 and Wednesday.

“We’ve seen in the last nine days more people signing up for plans than the entire month of November,” Lee said.

According to Covered California officials, final enrollment numbers are expected to be released within a week.

Local organizations have taken on the job of helping Merced residents enroll. Healthy House Within A MATCH Coalition on 301 W. 18th St. and Golden Valley Health Centers at 737 W. Childs Ave. are two of the locations where residents have lined up in search of assistance from a certified counselor.

Healthy House Executive Director Candice Adam-Medefind, said enrollment counselors at Healthy House have had to work late hours to accommodate people attempting to enroll in a health care plan. She said the extension has given counselors some breathing room to help as many people as possible, but she fears counselors may face similar technical problems on Tuesday when people rush to meet the new deadline.

Officials said Covered California will not provide further extensions for this first enrollment period. Open enrollment for coverage in 2015 will start on Nov. 15. Enrollment for low-cost or no-cost health insurance through Medi-Cal is available year-round.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra @mercedsunstar.com.

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