SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Individual insurance sign-ups under California's health care exchange were running ahead of pace from a year ago, when the marketplace opened for the first time, state officials reported Thursday.
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According to Covered California, 11,357 consumers selected an insurance plan in the first four days of the second round of open enrollment that began Tuesday. Last year, when technical glitches and paperwork confusion marred the opening of the exchanges nationwide, it took 15 days to reach 11,000 plan selections.
Overall, nearly 70,000 people have been determined eligible for either private health plans sold through the exchange or Medi-Cal, the state's low-cost or free Medicaid health plan for the poor.
"It's something we are incredibly heartened by," Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said Thursday. "When we look at how this compares to open enrollment a year ago, it actually took about two weeks to hit this kind of number. And we saw that in four days."
Health advocates told board members that they would like to see renewal notices made available in multiple languages and sought to streamline the enrollment process for people signing up a second time.
"It's pretty frustrating to see that Covered California was able to create and implement the voter registration function, yet there are key steps and pieces to the renewals that are not working as far as we've had people try to report new income and then they're being prompted to report other things like immigration status," said Anulkah Thomas, a policy analyst with the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Community Health Councils, Inc.
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Despite the strong start, the exchange is still struggling to help consumers. In October, three of every 10 calls to its service center were abandoned. The exchange set a goal of less than 3 percent.
Only 27 percent of calls were answered within 30 seconds that same month, compared to a goal of 80 percent.
Among the top reasons people call for help: They need help resetting passwords, have re-enrollment and open enrollment questions, want to check their status for Medi-Cal or want to report a change.
Even though the exchange is boosting staff, Lee encouraged people to seek help during low-call volume times. The service center is open until 8 p.m. weeknights and open Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 15. Covered California has also added more than 200 storefront locations to help people enroll.
"Monday mornings are always bonkers crazy. They will be for us, too," Lee said. "But we're adding capacity to help people."
This season, the agency is trying to enroll 1.7 million people for private health coverage next year, which would include re-enrolling 1.1 million people who signed up the first season.
State officials are also trying to sign up more people in a shorter amount of time. Open enrollment runs three months through Feb. 15, compared to six months the first time.
Two Covered California board members expressed disappointment with two health plans for overstating the number of doctors in their networks. On Tuesday, the California Department of Managed Health Care released its investigation and found Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California had a high number of doctors who were not at the location listed or were unwilling to accept the plans sold through the state's insurance marketplace.
Board member Paul Fearer said it's unacceptable for a health plan to simply have contracts with doctors if patients are being turned away.
Another member, Robert Ross, asked the exchange's staff to monitor the insurers' progress ahead of a six-month follow-up survey.