In another sign of an overwhelmed enrollment system, health insurers were hiring more more customer-service employees and cross-training staff to deliver insurance to Covered California customers who applied for coverage to start Jan. 1.
The California Association of Health Plans said insurers also were increasing the capacity of call lines that have been jammed with customers and had taken other measures such as extending hours and limiting vacation time.
Anthem Blue Cross reportedly received more than a million calls to its customer-service centers the first week in January, many from people trying to make payments so their new coverage would start as part of the federal health reform. Thats the number of calls the nationwide company normally receives in an entire month, said Nicole Kasabian Evans, a spokeswoman for the CAHP.
Local residents who signed up for health plans through Covered California, the exchange created to get people insured through the federal Affordable Care Act, tell of making multiple attempts to make payments to insurers online or by phone. Those tales of frustration are echoed on consumer advocacy or media websites across the state.
Clifton Britt of Ceres tried unsuccessfully to make phone payments to Anthem Blue Cross late last month so his wife would have coverage for the first time since 2007. He finally was able to make an electronic payment Jan. 3 with the help of an insurance broker. Britt said his wife has not received an insurance card or any confirmation of coverage.
Since we started trying to sign up Dec. 10, we have been spinning our wheels, Britt said.
Bob Schut of Ripon enrolled with Covered California in October, never received a payment invoice from the insurer, and twice made payments in December without getting confirmation he was covered. He recently made a third payment and then received an insurance card Saturday. None of the payments have appeared on his credit card or checking account statements, he said.
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, compared the backlog of enrollments to the late September traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J. If the initial stage was the governments fault, the problem now appears to be with health insurance companies, Court said. If you write a check, you should be covered. They are not giving customers the benefit of the doubt that they are covered.
Court said the Santa Monica-based consumer group has heard reports this month of people who enrolled with Covered California being charged $500 deposits by health care providers because theres no verification of their insurance status.
Those who defend the insurance industry say the delays in sending insurance cards to customers are caused by Covered Californias unconventional system for making initial payments to health plans.
Even as the health exchange continues with enrollment through March 31, one Valley legislator expressed a lack of confidence in the program.
The fact that problems with the Covered California website have not been resolved is yet another example of why government is not best-suited to run large programs, Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen said in a statement to The Modesto Bee. We need to improve access to quality and affordable health care, but so far we are not achieving that goal. We must figure out how to make the website work better for people, and I am committed to helping my constituents navigate through the process.
A counselor who helped seniors enroll in the Medicare prescription-drug program, launched in fall 2005, recalls a much smoother rollout for that federal initiative. More thought and preparation went into the Medicare drug program, said Frank Dotson, former manager of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program in Modesto.
Backers of the Affordable Care Act continued to trumpet the enrollment numbers for California. On Monday, Health Access California cited a federal report that 498,000 Californians had chosen a health plan through the new marketplace. In addition, more than 400,000 have signed up for Medi-Cal through Covered California and 630,000 people in county low-income health programs will be shifted to that program, Health Access said.
The federal health law raised the income eligibility for Medi-Cal.
California is meeting our marks, but its only halftime in this enrollment effort, and we expect a big surge as we approach the March deadlines, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Sacramento-based Health Access.
For coverage to be effective Jan. 1, the payments must be in the hands of insurers by Wednesday. Evans of CAHP suggested that consumers make payments online, by phone or priority mail. Information about making payments is available at www.Coveredca.com under How to Pay.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.