California insurance exchange reports 94,500 application starts

After two weeks of open enrollment, Californians have started nearly 95,000 applications for health insurance through the state's new exchange.

Covered California, the state marketplace, announced the latest figures Tuesday and it said consumer interest in the federal healthcare law remains strong.

State officials had previously reported 43,616 complete and partial applications for the first five days of enrollment through Oct. 5. These latest numbers would indicate more than 50,000 new applications through Oct. 12.

Those applications could reflect a household with more than one person. The state didn't provide further details.

Both Web traffic and call volume eased somewhat during the second week. Unique Web visits to www.coveredca.com dropped from 987,000 over the first five days to 603,000 last week. Calls slipped from 59,000 to 46,000, but the average wait time improved significantly to less than two minutes.

Covered California said it wouldn't release actual enrollment figures until next month for people choosing private insurance or getting coverage through an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.

Full coverage: Obamacare rolls out

The open enrollment period lasts until March 31, though consumers who want coverage to start Jan. 1 will have to select health plans by Dec. 15. Many experts think exchanges will face an influx of consumers just prior to the December deadline.

The state has been scrambling to train enough enrollment counselors to offer in-person assistance. Tuesday, it said 279 enrollment counselors are in place and 3,824 are awaiting certification.

Covered California has said it needs about 16,000 enrollment counselors statewide.

Officials said they have also certified 1,295 insurance agents to help with enrollment out of 17,768 agents who have applied.

Nationwide, the initial rollout of Obamacare has been marred by severe technical glitches at the federal exchange website, and to a lesser degree at the 14 states running their own online marketplaces.

Covered California has struggled to get an online search tool up and running so consumers can check what doctors and hospitals are included in specific health plans.

That feature is considered vital because many insurers in California have sharply limited the number of medical providers in their network to help hold down premiums in the exchange.

The state took the provider search tool offline Oct. 9, and an exchange spokeswoman said it's expected to return soon after improvements are made.

Starting in January, most Americans must have health insurance or pay a penalty. In 2014, the tax fine is $95 per adult or 1% of household income, whichever is greater. The fines increase in future years.

Premium subsidies are available for many lower- and middle-income people who make less than four times the federal poverty level — or about $46,000 for individuals and up to about $94,000 for a family of four.

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