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Exchange Swamped, Bends the Rules

A record-setting number of Californians trying to sign up for health insurance jammed the Covered California website yesterday, prompting exchange officials to soften the deadline rules.

Californians who tried but were unable to create an online account by midnight last night will have a second chance. They can contact Covered California representatives and explain that they tried but were unable to get into the system on March 31. They have until midnight April 15 to choose a plan and complete their application.

Those who managed to start an application before yesterday’s Affordable Care Act deadline will have until April 15 to finish it. Those who applied but have yet to pay their first premium have until April 15 to pay.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, it was clear to exchange officials that the system couldn’t handle the volume. By 2:30 p.m. there were a record 324,000 unique visitors to the site since the deadline day began, with more than 5.7 million pages viewed. By comparison, the previous deadline day — Dec. 23 the last day to sign up for coverage to start Jan. 1 — the site had 1.9 million page views.

“We have always said that if high website traffic impedes the ability of consumers to apply online for coverage by the deadline, we will help those people cross the finish line,” Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said late yesterday afternoon.

“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. 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,” Lee said in a prepared statement.

Dozens of events across the state highlighted the last-day push to sign up Californians for health care coverage through the exchange.

Exchange officials yesterday announced enrollment topped 1.2 million people, not counting the last day of enrollment.

“We’ve set records on accounts created five of the past six days,” Lee said.

Not all of those 1.2 million Californians have yet paid their premiums, but exchange officials have said paid enrollment has consistently run at about 80% of total enrollment, and that would hike premium-paid enrollment to about one million Californians.

Lee said some website functions were disabled yesterday to maximize enrollment use on the site, and that the message to consumers was crystal clear: If you started the application process on or before March 31, you have until April 15 to finish it.

Dozens of enrollment events across the state included a 17-hour-long “Enroll-a-thon” put on by a health care workers’ union in Sacramento, a health fair in Tulare and a Super Soul Sunday event in Inglewood.   

In addition to new private insurance customers, more than 1.5 million Californians have been added to the Medi-Cal rolls, counting the 650,000 people who were enrolled in the Low Income Health Program last year and were transitioned into the Medi-Cal program.

Combining the successes of Medi-Cal expansion and the Covered California exchange, nearly three million Californians enrolled in new coverage in 2014.

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