Covered California: Insurance enrollment easing in January, but still on track

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee.
Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee.
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The pace of enrollment in health insurance plans through the state-run marketplace Covered California eased somewhat in the first half of January, but the agency's chief says it is on track to meet, if not surpass, its goal for the end of open enrollment. 

More than 125,000 people enrolled in plans through Jan. 15th, after 400,000 signed up in the month of December, said Covered California. Those numbers bring the overall tally of enrollees to more than 625,000 since open enrollment began on Oct. 1st, it said.

The large December number may reflect the crush of enrollments as the late December deadline neared for policies that took effect Jan. 1st. Open enrollment continues through March 31st.

Nearly 425,000 of the enrollees through December 31st were eligible for federal subsidies, said Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director. Noting that independent estimates for subsidy-eligible enrollment by March 31st range from nearly 500,000 to  700,000, Lee said the numbers so far "tell us we are on track to meeting, if not beating, those enrollment estimates."

In recent weeks, many enrollees had complained that they had not received their first bill or insurance card for those Jan. 1st policies. Lee said that Covered California's preliminary numbers indicate that more than three-quarters of the people who enrolled through December have paid their premiums. He said the agency was not providing specific numbers Tuesday because some insurance companies have extended their payment deadlines. He promised to give a full accounting next month.

Covered California included for the first time statistics on enrollees who self identified as Latino, Hispanic, or of Spanish origin. About 80 percent of those who enrolled by Dec. 31st answered that question, and of those, nearly 20 percent said they are Latino, Hispanic or of Spanish origin.

That suggests that more Latinos are signing up than previously thought. Earlier statistics had indicated a much lower percentage of Latino enrollment. 

Still, Lee acknowledged that his agency needs to do more on that front, since it is estimated that nearly half of the Californians eligible for subsidized insurance are Latino. 

"We have much work to do over the next three months to build on our outreach to this important population," he said.

The number of 18 to 34-year-olds enrolling in coverage ticked up slightly in the month of December, according to the new data. They make up 25 percent of those who signed up through Dec. 31st, which matches their proportion of the population. They constituted 21 percent of enrollees through the end of November. 

The 18 to 34-year-olds, known as the Young Invincibles, are considered critical to the overall success of the Affordable Care Act. While they make up about 25 percent of the state's population, economists say they need to constitute closer to 40 percent of Covered California's clients to keep overall costs in check.

Lee said he's not concerned that Young Invincibles have not enrolled closer to that 40 percent threshold. 

"This is a new thing for young people," he said. "We know it's going to take a bigger lift."

Covered California is partnering with community colleges and vocational schools to conduct more in-person enrollments of young people, added Lee. 

The Affordable Care Act expands eligibility for Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal in California, and those numbers continue to grow as well. Through the end of December, Covered California determined 584,000 people were eligible for Medi-Cal, and another 630,000 were transitioned on to Medi-Cal from the state's Low Income Health Program.

This story was updated at 4:00 p.m. on January 21, 2014 to reflect a correction from Covered California which clarified that the percentage of respondents to the question about  Latino ethnicity was nearly 20 percent.