Monday’s deadline for getting health insurance – or paying a penalty – apparently lit a fire under consumers in California.
The Covered California health exchange said its website received 324,000 visits from midnight Sunday to 2:30 p.m. Monday, resulting in 5.7 million pages viewed. That was triple the number of page views Dec. 23, which was the deadline for health coverage starting Jan. 1.
The big rush froze the Covered California online application portal and prompted some enrollment counselors in Modesto to give paper applications to clients. By Monday afternoon, the exchange had given a two-week grace period to consumers running into technical problems.
According to a news release, those who were unable to create an account at www.coveredca.com or start an online application Monday can explain what happened to a Covered California service representative or certified counselors or agents. They have until April 15 to complete the paperwork and choose a health plan.
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Online applicants who started an account Monday and filled out the first page have two weeks to complete enrollment by themselves or with assistance from a certified counselor. Coverage for the last-minute applicants will start May 1, the exchange said.
Covered California gave other advice to people who filled out paper applications Monday, which needed to have a March 31 postmark. To make sure coverage begins May 1, those applicants were encouraged to have a certified agent enroll them online.
“While we had hoped people would start the enrollment process earlier, we can’t in good conscience turn people away who simply couldn’t get onto the website on the last day,” said Peter Lee, director of Covered California. “We were prepared for a last-minute surge of people coming to our website, but sometimes there’s only so much you can do operationally.”
The exchange, created to administer the Affordable Care Act in California, said more than 1.2 million state residents had enrolled since the campaign began Oct. 1. That number included 156,000 who enrolled from March 24 through early Monday.
The website worked well Sunday, a record day for people opening accounts. But paper applications were given to customers at the Kaiser Permanente retail store Monday afternoon because the online portal had been down for three hours. Customers were advised to mail the applications by day’s end, said Jesse Montoya, Kaiser’s area retail supervisor.
Montoya said dozens of people came to the McHenry Avenue storefront Monday. One was Lynn Young of Madera, who chose a Silver Kaiser plan, but she struggled to understand the tax credit that would lower the monthly premium. Young said she had been busy assisting a family member in Stockton but found time to seek coverage Monday. She said she will be 65 next year, making her eligible for Medicare.
Montoya said Kaiser will keep the store open for those who are eligible to enroll in ACA health plans beyond the deadline because of job loss or other special circumstances, and presumably for last-minute applicants who need to finish enrollment.
Besides Kaiser, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield and HealthNet are approved to offer exchange health plans in Stanislaus and nearby counties.