A continued surge of interest in health insurance provided under President Barack Obama’s health care law has prompted officials to postpone the enrollment deadline until midnight Monday for coverage beginning Jan. 1.
It’s the second, two-day extension granted by national and state officials to accommodate late-comers for the current open enrollment period, which started Nov. 1.
Covered California, a state health insurance marketplace set up under the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, also has extended daily call center hours to midnight Friday, Saturday and Monday for help with applications.
The agency cautioned that its website would be offline between 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday, so no enrollments will be possible during that time frame.
An estimated 20 million people nationally have gained health insurance through the legislation. It includes more than 58,000 in Sonoma County, or nearly 12 percent of the county’s population. Roughly three in five of those individuals qualified for expanded Medi-Cal, while the remainder received private insurance through the state exchange.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in demand this year, especially as compared to last year,” said Suzie Shupe, chief executive officer of the Redwood Community Health Coalition, a network of at least 17 community health centers and clinics in Sonoma County and three neighboring counties.
“What’s really interesting this year is that, right from the outset of enrollment, and certainly after the election, there has been a surge in interest, and people are excited and anxious to get on coverage,” Shupe said.
This is the nation’s fourth opportunity to sign up for health insurance and expanded Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California, under what’s often known as Obamacare. The law was designed, in part, to expand health coverage to people previously priced out of the market or excluded because of pre-existing conditions.
But current enrollments come under a greater cloud of uncertainty than ever for the controversial program, which President-elect Donald J. Trump has vowed to dismantle or change. The outcome of the election may explain some of the added interest this year, local health officials said.
It’s not at all clear how Trump will address the health care program, said Kim Seamans, director of Sonoma County’s Economic Assistance Division. Her agency is advising consumers that immediate changes are unlikely.
But Shupe said people are still concerned that “if I don’t get it now, I might not get it.“
Other factors behind increased interest include attention brought to the program through the election, a burgeoning “culture of coverage” created since the program began and awareness of federal tax penalties imposed on those who previously failed to get insurance under the law’s individual mandate, Shupe said.
Covered California said Friday that nearly 200,000 consumers had signed up for coverage during the current enrollment period, including 67,000 new patients who had enrolled in the previous four days, compared with 62,000 during the four-day period last year.
While the deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1 is Monday night, consumers can sign up with Covered California until Jan. 31, though coverage would not kick in until Feb. 1 or March 1.
Residents can sign up for Medi-Cal at any time of the year, Seamans said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.