6 more days for health coverage

Health insurance deadlineAnyone who made an effort to sign up for health insurance via Covered California gets an early holiday present — another week to sign up for policies that begin Jan. 1.

The state Obamacare operation announced that consumers who had begun the application process or made “good faith effort” would be eligible for the extension until Dec. 21.

“We are providing this window to get people across the finish line,” Covered California chief Peter Lee told board members Dec. 15.

As of Dec. 11, Covered California is reporting 91,500 new enrollees. Open enrollment continues through Feb. 15, however. Almost 49,000 people signed up for coverage via Covered California in the first three weeks.

Covered California was not publicizing the December extension on its web site, blog or Facebook page, however. A similar extension was granted in March at the end of open enrollment for 2014, the exchange’s first year under the Affordable Care Act. “There’s only so much you can do operationally,” officials said at the time.

The December extension was justified, in part, by backups in the enrollment process. Call centers continued to be swamped, with about a third of consumers abandoning their efforts to contact a representative. Covered California, meanwhile, said its web site was going down late Tuesday for maintenance.

New York and Minnesota also extended their deadline for Jan. 1 coverage, to Dec. 20. New York pointed to extreme weather conditions. Minnesota cited “historic interest” in subsidized private health insurance. Call center wait times were similar to those in California.

Consumers with existing Covered California-sold policies will be renewed automatically, although terms and premiums have changed across the board — making a review of coverage options beneficial in many cases. Covered California policies saw increases of about 4 percent for next year, although some plans saw decreases, notably some from Kaiser Permanente.

Covered California is targeting a total enrollment of 1.7 million as of Feb. 15 — another 500,000 consumers, almost all of whom would receive government subsidies for buying healthcare coverage. An estimated 3.2 million people remain uninsured in California.

The 2015 open enrollment period began Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15. That’s significantly shorter than the inaugural Affordable Care Act policy signup period in California, which ran Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014.

Meanwhile, Covered California board member Dr. Robert Ross stepped down. He is the CEO of the California Endowment. In a statement, Ross said he wanted to “acknowledge the efforts of Executive Director Peter Lee and Board Chair Diana Dooley and applaud their ongoing service” — but gave no reason for leaving the board a year ahead of schedule.

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