By April Dembosky
Enrollment in California’s health insurance exchange rose dramatically in early December as the deadline looms for coverage beginning January 1. An average of 15,000 people per day signed up for plans the first two days of this week, up from 7,000 per day last week -- the first week of December -- and 2,700 people per day in mid-November.
“And that momentum is not stopping, it’s building,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s marketplace, in a call with reporters.
California continues to outperform other state and federally-run marketplaces, with more people enrolling for plans in California than any other state. As of the end of November, 109,296 Californians had enrolled in a plan –- representing 30 percent of all enrollees in the country. (See top chart.)
Another 179,000 people applied and are likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid.
Covered California has been successful in attracting young people to sign up, a critical cohort for balancing insurance pools and keeping the price of premiums low. Eighteen to 34-year-olds represent 21 per cent of enrollees in the marketplace, roughly in line with their representation in the California population.
Leslie Foster, a 29-year-old freelance filmmaker in Hollywood, participated in Covered California's conference call. He said he was glad when his existing catastrophic insurance plan was canceled. He said he signed up for a much more comprehensive health plan through Covered California that will cost him $62 a month.
“It’s one of the few bills I’m going to be excited about paying,” he said.
Covered California has not done so well with Latinos, another critical demographic for the Affordable Care Act. Spanish speakers, which the state is using as a proxy for ethnicity, represent only 5 percent of enrollees, compared to 29 percent of Spanish speakers that live in California. Mr. Lee said the state needs to refine its research methods for tracking ethnicity –- 88 percent of people who enrolled declined to state their ethnicity –- and it needs to evaluate its outreach strategy for the Latino community.
“Between now and January, we’re doing focus groups and quantitative research to find out what’s going on,” he said. “Is it because Latinos want to enroll in person versus online? Is it because talking to phone counselors is something they prefer or don’t prefer? So, we’re going to be doing research and we’ll be stepping up what is already a lot of marketing and outreach in the Latino community."
California also has a lower success rate in attracting the currently uninsured. You can compare states in the second chart, Federal data shows that through the end of November, just under 2 percent of people who had selected a plan do not have insurance right now.
Dec. 23 is the deadline to enroll in coverage that begins Jan. 1, but open enrollment continues until Mar. 31.