SACRAMENTO — California's health insurance exchange said Monday that it has a backlog of 25,000 paper applications that must be processed by Dec. 23 for the applicants to get health insurance starting in the new year, a daunting process that threatens to leave some people who applied for insurance weeks ago without coverage.
The applications came from individuals, insurance agents and health exchange agents who were unable to access the online portal in the first few days after the exchange opened on Oct. 1, said Roy Kennedy, a spokesman for Covered California, the agency that runs the health exchange. He said the agency has been working to process the applications since then.
"We've added additional staff and redirected existing staff to input all the paper applications, so we believe that everyone who properly filled out the application, they will have health insurance on Jan. 1," Kennedy said.
But for people who enrolled through an insurance agent, those workers are only entering basic information such as the applicants' names and the names of the insurance agents, said Neil Crosby, a spokesman for the California Association of Health Underwriters. He said agents are now being alerted to check the Covered California site several times a day to see whether any of their clients' applications need to be added.
He said the association only learned of the backlog last week.
"My guess is a lot of the people who submitted their applications, if not the majority of them, thought that they were enrolled. They're probably booking appointments to get care," Crosby said. "And with a backlog of 25,000 applications, I'm not sure, even if there were thousands of people inputting information, if it could all be done in time to get these people coverage for the Jan. 1 date."
Entering the data takes about 45 minutes per application, Kennedy said. He said applications filed by people who did not enroll through an insurance agent are being manually entered in full. He could not provide a breakdown of how many of the applications were in which categories.
After that, insurance companies must be notified that their plans have been selected, bill the customers and receive payment by Jan. 1 for coverage to start in the new year, a span that includes Christmas Day, which is a federal and state holiday.
The agency previously had said that nearly 80,000 people had signed up for health insurance through the exchange by mid-November. Enrollees are defined as those who have selected an insurance policy but might not have actually paid for it yet.
Covered California had encouraged individuals and insurance agents to fill out their applications on paper if they were having trouble connecting through the website when the portal first opened. Kennedy said many of the agents also believed that their clients were enrolled by now and believed "the process was a lot further along than we now find out it is."
"I'm sure a lot of the applicants will be surprised and potentially disappointed that they weren't further along in the system by now," he said.
Kennedy could not say how many employees were added or redirected to enter consumer data, but he said they are working to beat the clock.