California Bright Spot In Obamacare, Makes Up One-Third Of All Marketplace Enrollees

Nearly 60,000 Californians have enrolled in insurance plans under the nation’s health law since its launch on Oct. 1, officials from the state’s marketplace announced Wednesday.

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said the early numbers exceeded his expectations. “We’re very pleased with the momentum,” he said. “Consumers are doing their shopping … They are picking the plans that are right for them.”

In addition to those enrolled in insurance plans, another 72,000 were determined to be eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.

The number of enrollees is continuing to grow each day, Lee said. The federal government announced earlier Wednesday that 35,364 Californians signed up for plans between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2, making up one third of the total number enrolled nationwide. California had more people enrolled than the 27,000 from all 36 states with exchanges run by the federal government.

Across the country, 106,185 people signed up for insurance coverage during that time period – far fewer than the administration had hoped for. Website delays and problems kept many from successfully signing up.

The state also released results of an internal survey that showed 70 percent of people enrolled said the process was easy to complete.

The majority of those enrolled through California’s insurance marketplace so far tend to be older than average and not eligible for financial subsidies, Lee said. “These are people who have been waiting for a long time to get coverage,” he said.

Lee said he expected that, over time, more young people would sign up. Younger, healthy people are critical to the success of the law, because they will balance out those who are anxious for coverage because they have expensive health care needs. The state expects that by the end of March, between 500,000 and 700,000 people who are eligible for subsidies will sign up for coverage.

California State University Los Angeles Professor Walter Zelman, who is overseeing a Covered California outreach grant, said he expects young people to sign up but not right away. “To have expected them to enroll this quickly was a bit of a fantasy,” he said. “Explaining this whole new system – especially in the wake of the relentless negativity from the opposition – is a difficult challenge.”

Federal and state officials attributed some of the early success of Covered California to the extensive outreach and education effort taking place in communities across the state. Last spring, Covered California began awarding grants to community groups, universities and others to explain the new health insurance options.

The California Endowment also has invested in a partnership with Spanish-language media to reach Latinos in the state. And there have been billboards, television and radio commercials and online advertising.

But the state has encountered some problems since the launch, including a delay in training enrollment counselors.

To begin receiving coverage on Jan. 1, consumers must pick a plan by Dec. 15. The open enrollment for the insurance marketplaces lasts until March 31.

California has almost 7 million people without health coverage.

agorman@kff.org