On first day of Obamacare, local clinics start enrolling uninsured

  • Bertha Diaz, right, a Certified Applications Assistant, helps Rufina Arango and her husband Noe Maya Garcia apply for MediCal for their family at the Vista Family Health Center in Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

"It's great, because it is going to help many of us. If not for Obamacare, many of us would not qualify for health insurance," said Arango, who filled out her application at Vista Health Center, one of several clinics operated by the Santa Rosa Community Health Centers.

Across the North Coast, enrollment counselors helped people like Arango determine if they qualified for the newly expanded Medi—Cal program or if they should purchase subsidized coverage through state health insurance exchanges like Covered California.

There were numerous reports of glitches and slow websites Tuesday as the health exchanges launched across the country. Thousands of Californians seeking to buy their own health insurance overloaded the state's online marketplace and flooded call centers with questions.

Obamacare Debuts On North Coast


Dozens of workers at a call center in Rancho Cordova began fielding calls after a countdown to the 8 a.m. opening of the health exchange.

"We are here in California on the right side of history," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.

It was evident that exchange officials had work to do after the website and phone system were hit with a crush of inquiries. The exchange's online portal was laggy and slow to load certain web pages.

Officials had predicted delays on the first day and said many people would merely be seeking information rather than signing up for coverage, which begins in the new year.

The Affordable Care Act will dramatically change the way many Americans get health insurance, marking the most extensive change to the nation's health care system since Medicare and Medicaid became law in 1965.

Under the law, consumers who have previously been rejected for private insurance because of a pre-existing condition will be able to enroll, and those who cannot afford to buy their own insurance can receive government-subsidized premiums. Annual out-of-pocket expenses will be capped, and insurance companies cannot impose a maximum lifetime benefit.

At Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, an estimated 7,500 uninsured patients could potentially qualify for expanded Medi-Cal. Another 1,500 uninsured patients who currently pay on a sliding scale could potentially qualify for subsidized insurance through Covered California.

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