Covered California Tops One Million, Now Sets Sights on Doubling Base Estimate

Covered California officials yesterday announced a major milestone: The new health benefit exchange has topped one million enrollees.

As of March 15, 1,018,315 Californians have purchased health insurance through Covered California. About 85% of those enrollees are eligible for subsidies.

That puts the exchange far ahead of enrollment expectations with two weeks still to go in the first open enrollment period.

“It is a nice round number, that’s true,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. “But also, nationally, progress has been measured in millions, the one-million, the two-million barriers. So if California alone can sign up one million people, that’s a signal to other states of what can be done if you buckle down and work at it.”

Perhaps more impressive than breaking the one million mark is the potential to double the base enrollment estimate.

Before the exchange started open enrollment six months ago, UC-Berkeley researchers estimated the opening mark of success for the exchange — the base estimate — was 560,000 people in the first enrollment period.

Hitting twice that number — 1.12 million enrollees by the end of the month — is “a real possibility,” according to Lee. Given the 94,000 sign-ups in the second week in March (from March 9 till March 15), getting roughly another 100,000 enrollees in the final two weeks seems likely.

“Doubling the base estimate, that is totally within the realm of possibility. Whether we get 100,000 or 200,000 or north of that, we don’t know,” Lee said.

“I will say, for all the struggles we had [early on in open enrollment], signing up 400,000 by December, that was a big number. But that was the low-hanging fruit, the people who were easiest to sign up for the exchange,” Lee said. “From Jan. 1 on, every person signed up from that point on is harder to get signed up. So it’s very possible we could double that base estimate, but it’s not easy.”

Just like the rush of people who signed up by the end of December to get coverage on the first day it was offered, Jan. 1, there likely will be a similar rush to get coverage at the very end of the exchange’s first open enrollment period, Lee said.  

“We generally see things go up before deadlines, so we expect quite a bit more to happen,” he said. “We are not done yet.”

Among the UC-Berkeley enrollment estimates was the “enhanced” highest estimate — what the exchange might accomplish if everything went as well as it possibly could. That enhanced estimate was 830,000 enrollees, which the exchange exceeded last month. 

“From a policy perspective, this is an example of what a state can do or a nation can do when you have the kind of commitment and common purpose you see across the state of California,” Lee said.

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