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State's health insurance exchange deadline nears


With a March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare fast approaching, state and local health care officials say now is not the time to procrastinate.

Officials with Covered California said Friday that the daily flood of health insurance enrollees will likely be in the tens of thousands in the last days of the month. There are already about 10,000 state residents signing up for health coverage daily through the state health exchange.

In the last month before the Affordable Care Act's first enrollment deadline — which was Dec. 23 for coverage that began Jan. 1 — nearly 400,000 people signed up for a plan through the state-run health insurance marketplace.

At times, the enrollment rate hit 20,000 a day back then, said James Scullary, a spokesman for Covered California.

"Don't wait until March 31 because we saw what happened in December when the demand was enormous," said Scullary. "It's our own little version of March Madness."

There are actually two open enrollment deadlines this month. The first lands Saturday for those who want their coverage to begin by April 1. The last deadline is March 31 for coverage beginning May 1.

The regular enrollment window then closes until next fall.

Abraham Daniels, who is leading Sonoma County's outreach and education efforts around Obamacare, said there are a number of avenues, both at the state and local levels, for getting insured. These include enrolling:

; Through an enrollment counselor at a local community health center.

; Through an insurance agent listed on the Covered California website.

; Through the Sonoma County Human Services Department at (877) 699-6868.

; Online through the Covered California website www.coveredca.com.

Between Oct. 1 and March 9, 923,000 people across the state enrolled in private insurance plans through Covered California. By the end of February, 762,174 people enrolled through the state exchange since Oct. 1 were eligible for a subsidy.

Covered California officials said this week that a little more than 1 million state residents who applied for coverage through the exchange were eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's federal Medicaid program.

Eligibility requirements for Medicaid were greatly expanded under Obamacare.

As of the start of this year, the upper limit of income eligibility was raised to 138 percent of the poverty level, assets-based restrictions have been eliminated and single adults now qualify.

"If you tried to enroll into Medi-Cal in 2013 and were denied, we'd like you to try again," Daniels said.

Daniels said the county has received 9,000 more Medi-Cal applications since Oct. 1. The county said it's on track for enrolling 13,500 additional Medi-Cal clients under the Obamacare.

The regular open enrollment deadline does not apply to those who qualify for Medi-Cal, Daniels said. Those applying for Medi-Cal can apply at any time.

Also, there are special enrollment periods for those who have a "life event," such as getting married, adding a dependent or moving to a different area where the available health plans are different.

"We don't want there to be confusion that you can't enroll between March and October," Daniels said.

Pedro Toledo, a spokesman for the Redwood Community Health Coalition and an expert on the subject of public insurance enrollment, said a small platoon of 56 certified enrollment workers will be working at local community clinics to help people apply for health insurance.

These workers are currently averaging about four new applications a day for Covered California or Medi-Cal, he said. By the end of the month, nearly 2,400 insurance applications will be processed by local community health centers, he said.

Toledo said that figure represents about half of the expected new Covered California and Medi-Cal applicants in the county between now and March 31.

"It's a pretty significant number," Toledo said. "From now to the end of March, we should have 11 working days."

Toledo and Daniels said there are a number of enrollment events scheduled for the coming weeks <NO1>(See PDF) <NO>including one from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 22 at Rancho Cotate High School. Ten enrollment workers will be on hand for the crunch of last<NO1>-<NO>minute applicants, many of them likely uneasy about filing an online application.

"We're not going to do outreach and education like we've been doing before," Toledo said. "We'll just be getting people through the application process."

(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.)