New Obamacare enrollment in California nears 49,000

Obamacare: California enrolls 48,950 new people in healthcare plans through Dec. 3

California's insurance exchange said 48,950 new people signed up for Obamacare coverage during the first three weeks of open enrollment.

The latest figures span Nov. 15 to Dec. 3, and state officials said about 160,000 people have also applied for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for low-income residents.

"The pace of enrollment is very strong," said Peter Lee, executive director of the Covered California exchange.

For comparison, when enrollment under the Affordable Care Act began in October 2013, California signed up about 31,000 people during the entire month. The state finished with about 1.2 million people enrolled in private healthcare plans after a surge of applicants in March and April.

The state still has a long way to go to reach its overall goal of 1.7 million enrolled by Feb. 15, when the sign-up period ends.

More immediately, existing policyholders face a Monday deadline if they want to change coverage for Jan. 1.

For most consumers, existing policies will be automatically renewed if they do nothing. However, exchange officials are urging people to shop around because their premiums may be going up and their network of doctors and hospitals might be changing.

Lee said the state won't release details on renewals and how many people switched healthcare plans until next month.

As expected, Lee said, there have been some bumps in the road as people try to make changes to their coverage.

Consumers and insurance agents have complained about long wait times with the state's call center and technical problems with online enrollment.

"I would not say it's been a glitch-free renewal process," Lee said on a conference call Wednesday. "But by and large, this process is going smoothly."

Medi-Cal has encountered its own service issues as more than 2 million people joined the program this year as part of the healthcare law expansion. 

Enrollment is open year round for Medi-Cal, which has 11 million enrolled overall.

One of the biggest problems has been a backlog of applications, leaving thousands of people waiting months to get coverage confirmed. In May, the number of bottlenecked applications hit 900,000.

Toby Douglas, director of the state Department of Health Care Services, said Wednesday that the backlog has been reduced to less than 100,000. He also said about 75% of the latest applicants have been immediately cleared for coverage.

"We have been making significant progress on the pending cases," he said.

Twitter: @chadterhune

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