Those who tried to enroll in health insurance through Covered California waited on the phone or ran into computer glitches for much of this week.
That wasnt the experience Friday for Laura Hunt of Modesto, in a sign the state health exchange may be running more smoothly after a rocky start to the enrollment period.
Hunt said she completed the online enrollment in 45 minutes. At one point, she got stuck, called Covered California for assistance and was patched through to a call center worker within 60 seconds, she said.
A Covered California agent examined her application and said Hunt could have Anthem Blue Cross coverage for $23 a month, instead of a $65-a-month option the Modesto resident had chosen. Now, Hunt is waiting only for a confirmation from the health exchange. Its not that bad once you get working on it, she said. Wednesday, the system crashed when she was halfway through the application.
These are exciting times for the uninsured like Hunt, who lost her husbands employer-based coverage when he was killed in a 2006 car crash. About 5 million Californians are eligible for subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and they cant be denied because of pre-existing health issues.
Covered California, the exchange serving as a marketplace for health plans, has continued to work on enrollment-system glitches since opening day Tuesday, when its Internet site had 514,000 unique visits and two call centers received 19,000 calls, spokesman James Scullary said. The first week has been incredible from the standpoint of sheer interest, he said. We have been blown away by the response from the public.
This weekend, the exchange will try to load enormous provider directories so visitors to www.coveredca.com can see which doctors, hospitals and other providers accept the insurance. In Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, Covered California approved plans with different coverage levels offered by Anthem, Kaiser Permanente, Health Net and Blue Shield.
Nick Bavarro, a Modesto broker whos certified to enroll customers, said 14 people attended a Stockton seminar held by his business this week, and 12 attended one held Friday in Merced. I was expecting to see more people who want to sign up, but we are talking with people who have a lot of questions and confusion, he said. I am surprised Covered California has not advertised as much in the valley as anticipated.
Among those confused by the Affordable Care Act are seniors who call the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program office in Modesto, which provides help with navigating Medicare. HICAP Counselor Sandy Ranzo-Howell said some Medicare recipients mistakenly think theyre affected by the Affordable Care Act.
Others are confused about the overlapping enrollment times for Obamacare and Medicare. The time for enrolling or making changes to Medicare Advantage plans is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. The sign-ups for Covered California run from Oct. 1 through March 31. The health reform law primarily affects single adults ages 18 to 64 and uninsured families.
For the first two enrollment days, a Stanislaus County regional call center was filling out paper applications for Medi-Cal enrollment, despite the millions in federal dollars invested in the Covered California computer network.
But the county agents working in the Hackett Road center received their log-in passwords Thursday and started using the system for enrollments in the expanded Medi-Cal coverage, said Kristie Santos, assistant director of the countys Community Services Agency.
As of Friday, the regional center also serving Marin and Napa counties handled 112 calls transferred from Covered California. Stanislaus Countys other service center had received 55 calls related to Medi-Cal, and almost 60 applicants had walked into county offices.
Things were going much smoother the last two days, said Santos, who expects the call volumes to increase. So many people tried the first day and were having such technical issues, my instincts tell me people are going to be waiting a couple of weeks.
It could take more outreach to inform Valley residents about the law that, starting Jan. 1, will make health insurance mandatory for individuals and families.
To help explain the requirements, state Sen. Anthony Cannella will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday on the Affordable Care Act from 6 to 7:30p.m. at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth St. The program will include information about mental health services and Covered California, followed by questions and answers.