Covered California Will ‘Easily’ Hit Goal

Covered California came close to its stated goal of 500,000 enrollees for its second open enrollment period — and Tuesday’s extension of the deadline until Feb. 22 for “hundreds of thousands” of potential enrollees will certainly push the exchange past its goal, Covered California officials said Tuesday.

The original end date to sign up for coverage through Covered California was Feb. 15. That date was first extended to Feb. 20 for those people who filled out an application but have not yet enrolled. On Tuesday, exchange officials announced the deadline would be extended to Feb. 22, to line up with the federal open enrollment deadline.

Also, exchange officials said they are considering a further extension for Californians who are about to discover they will have to pay a tax penalty if they are not covered. According to Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, a decision on a further extension will be made within the week.

“What we saw over the last week was strong momentum [in enrollment] that peaked with 36,000 people enrolling on Sunday [Feb. 15] alone,” Lee said. “That’s the largest number we’ve had in one day over the three-month open enrollment period.”

The rush was a burden on call centers, Lee said, where wait times to speak to an assister averaged 45 minutes. That’s one reason for the weeklong extension to Feb. 22, Lee said — the demand may have outstripped capacity.

Lee said “hundreds of thousands” of Californians completed applications but did not yet enroll. Exchange officials hope to reach those people and get some of them into the system over the next week, he said.

“Covered California has adopted a policy of helping people across the finish line,” Lee said. “So we are getting the word out. Consumers must have started an application or made a good faith effort to start an application” to qualify for late sign-up, Lee said. “It is not self-service during this enrollment period. They need to have someone at Covered Cal help them, an insurance broker or someone at the call center.”

The deadline extension should allow the exchange to pass its target number, he said.

“We are very confident that we will easily break 500,000 in this enrollment period,” Lee said. “That means half a million new people will have affordable health care available to them through the exchange. That’s big.”

As for an additional extra period of enrollment for those who find themselves paying a tax penalty for non-coverage, Lee said that decision is pending.

“We are actively considering that,” he said. “We have thousands of cases where people literally walked across the street from their tax adviser [to Covered California] when they found they owed a tax. We should have a decision by early next week.”

Another extension could have some impact on the risk pool, Lee said. If the deadlines don’t remain deadlines, people do tend to wait until they’re sick to get coverage, he said.

“This is the first year in which taxes and health care go arm-in-arm,” Lee said. “So stay tuned until next week.”

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