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Calif. health exchange chief Peter Lee defends rollout, downplays confusion

Peter Lee, Covered California executive director, will oversee implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California.
Peter Lee, Covered California executive director, will oversee implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California.
Peter Lee

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California's Health insurance exchange opened for business on Tuesday. If you've tried to register on Covered California's website and shop around for policies, you know that it's not been the smoothest process.

It took several hours for people to get into the system that first day, but it's still early. You need to enroll by December 15 to be covered by January first of next year, and enrollment in the exchange runs through March 31.

To get a sense of how things are shaping up we are joined by Covered California executive director Peter Lee. 

Interview Highlights

Four days in, how do you think it's going?
"I feel great, as you noticed we had a huge amount of traffic. We had more than 500,000 separate people logging on on day one, and many of them spent a lot of time there. Quite a few enrolled, we're going to be releasing the enrollment numbers later, but it was a good day and it has been a very good week with millions of Californians understanding that they need to shop around and they have opportunities they've never had before."

On the numbers: You mentioned 5 million visitors on Tuesday, but it turned out to be 645,000 hits:
"Let me be really clear, we were very accurate in what we reported on Tuesday, which was 5 million page visits and web hits, which is different than individual visitors. I think some of the press picked up the web hits, which in the Internet lingo is pretty clear to those who know it, as opposed to separate users."

When will we know how many have enrolled?
"We're going to do enrollment reports on a monthly basis, so we're going to release enrollment in November for the full month of October."

How have you handled the glitches?
"Life is never glitch-free. Anything we do...we're getting better and faster every day. I encourage people to go online. Today they can go online and today, if they want to find out if their doctor's in the network, they need to link to the individual health plans to find that. On Monday, we're going to have a consolidated directory of all the health plan physicians in one place.

"That's a huge service, some people are saying, 'Oh my God, that service isn't available on day one, that's a glitch.' Instead of saying, 'Boy for people who are working with large employers that are huge and have been doing this for 30 years, they don't have that service.' We're providing a service where individuals who have five plans to choose from can see in one place, is their doctor in which place. We're building a system to help consumers make informed choices that we think is world class. We're excited about it and we're improving it every day."

What about freelancers?
"One of the things, another example of improving the systems, starting on Monday, every person who goes through, we're going to survey them to see what we can do to make the system better and smoother.

"I'd remind us all that today, before the affordable care act, to apply for health coverage? Talk about an unfriendly system. You're asked about, have you had asthma? Have you had an allergy? Have you had cancer? Invasive questions about your health status, those are gone forever. We're not asking that at all because the rules have changed."

There has been a lot of preparation for this, so why so many issues so quickly?
"I would ask you or anyone who's listening to think of a big huge build or system that has launched on time and on budget? Few. We opened on time, on budget, if anyone expects perfection in anything in the world, I'm not sure what world they live in."

California says it wants to enroll more than 2 million people into health coverage by the end of next year. The most of any state. Do you think you're going to get there?
"Our goal through Covered California, our forecast is that by the end of 2014, starting January 1, 2015, we forecast to have about 1.2 million Californians enrolled with subsidies. In addition the folks at Medi-Cal think that they'll have about a million people enrolled through Medi-Cal. I think we'll be there."