Covered California Launches 2015 Outreach Campaign

Covered California executive director Peter Lee, seen here at a November, 2013, press conference. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)
Covered California executive director Peter Lee, seen here at a November, 2013, press conference. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, kicked off its marketing and outreach campaign Monday for the upcoming 2015 open enrollment period. Officials say they forecast enrolling 1.7 million people, about 500,000 more than are presently signed up.

Peter Lee, the agency's executive director, acknowledged the work ahead. "It won't be easy," he said. "In many ways, it will be harder than last year."

For starters, the next open enrollment runs three months compared to last year's six month period when more than three million people signed up either for Covered California or to Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid.

But analysts had long presumed at least a portion of those people were informed about health insurance and the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Lee said of those uninsured today and eligible for subsidies, 56 percent have been uninsured for at least two years, and 15 percent have never had insurance.

Those individuals have dealt with a "culture of coping," he said. "We want that to be a culture of coverage."

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Covered California announced $14.6 million in new grants to community groups "that have a track record," Lee said, of direct outreach to diverse groups, in multiple languages. An additional $33.4 million had previously been awarded.

Officials also announced a $46 million statewide advertising campaign rolling out this week, in specific markets. The total budget for outreach and marketing is $94 million.

Lee spoke of lessons learned from the first open enrollment, including that many people prefer face-to-face counseling, as opposed to signing up online. "There's no such thing as one touch and done," he said. "It's going to take multiple conversations."

Covered California is also adding more staff at its three call centers. Spokesman Roy Kennedy said that at the end of the last open enrollment, there were 709 service center representatives. Kennedy said that Covered California "hope(s) to have 950 in place for the beginning of the upcoming open enrollment" which starts Nov. 15.

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Call center wait times were often quite long during last year's open enrollment. "Knock on wood, we'll have fast answer time," Lee said. "We were swamped last year."

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