California's insurance exchange said 159,000 people have enrolled in private health plans through early December, but very few Latinos are signing up.
In figures released Thursday, the Covered California exchange also said 179,000 people appear likely to qualify for an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for the poor.
State officials said early returns this month indicate enrollment continues to accelerate ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline to apply if people want coverage in place Jan. 1.
About 7,100 people daily have selected a health plan during the first week of December. The state's overall enrollment had reached 159,004 through Dec. 7.
"Enrollments and applications are surging," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. He said the exchange and outside groups assisting with enrollment "are stepping up our game to meet the demand."
One of the weak spots so far in California has been the lackluster turnout among Latinos, even though they make up about half of the state's 7 million uninsured and stand to gain significantly from federal premium subsidies.
For October and November, the exchange said only 5% of enrollees or less than 4,500 people were primarily Spanish speakers. Overall, that group is 29% of California's population and a key target for the state's $80-million marketing campaign.
The exchange noted that this data excluded nearly 12,000 applicants who didn't indicate their chosen language.
Many supporters of the healthcare law have expressed concern about the shortage of Latinos signing up. They have criticized Covered California for not having a paper application available in Spanish.
Exchange officials have said that application should be available soon and that more than half of their enrollment counselors speak Spanish.
The turnout among young people in the exchange has been more promising thus far.
For October and November enrollment, the coveted group of 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for 21% of sign-ups, close to their 25% share of the state population.
To make the healthcare law work, it's important for government-run exchanges to recruit enough young and healthy people to offset the higher costs incurred by older, sicker patients.
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