"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.
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.
"They say the sixth leading cause of death is having no insurance, so I take my job seriously," said Bertha Diaz, one of four certified enrollment counselors at Vista Health Center.
At the clinic on Tuesday, the enrollment counselors spent much of the day meeting with patients to see if they qualified for Obamacare. For the past two weeks, the counselors have been filling out Covered California "lead forms" that identify those who may qualify for subsidized coverage.
In the next few days, counselors will be contacting these patients and encouraging them to enroll.
At the West County Community Health Centers, enrollment specialists have enlisted the help of AmeriCorps members to educate local residents and get them enrolled through Covered California or expanded Medi-Cal.
In addition to enrolling people at four clinic sites, AmeriCorps members will be doing outreach at several West County locations, including the Guerneville Veteran's Hall and the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center.
Jeremie Robenolt, West County Health Centers' associate director for customer service, said they've identified 3,700 who are uninsured or pay for medical care out of pocket.
"What it really means is that it's a new start for a lot of people," said Robenolt.