California flubs notices to 114,000 households

The Covered California exchange said a computer error caused nearly 114,000 households to get eligibility notices with incomplete information. (David McNew/Getty Images / December 17, 2013)

Adding to consumer confusion ahead of a major enrollment deadline, California's health insurance exchange sent flawed eligibility notices to nearly 114,000 households due to a computer error.

The Covered California exchange said the letters sent from Nov. 22 to Dec. 7 had blank spaces or missing information on people's eligibility for insurance or federal premium subsidies.

"The letters would say you are eligible for Covered California, but you are ineligible for blank," said exchange spokeswoman Anne Gonzales. "It seemed to contradict whether the enrollee was eligible. It was confusing to people."

Ben Amante of Costa Mesa received one of the letters last weekend and said he couldn't understand what it meant for his insurance application for himself and his daughter.

"One short paragraph said you're qualified and the next one says you're not qualified," Amante said. "Insurance companies are looking a lot better now after dealing with Covered California."

Gonzales said technical problems with the computer-generated letters have been fixed, and new notices are going out to the 113,847 affected households.

She urged people with questions about their application to check their account summary online at the coveredca.com website.

The inaccurate letters triggered increased calls to the state's three service centers, which are already straining to handle high volume. The average wait time topped 36 minutes at last count.

Consumers wanting coverage that starts Jan. 1 must enroll by Monday. The deadline for the first premium payment has been extended to Jan. 6.

To accommodate more applicants, the exchange's service centers will be open Sunday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"We are definitely seeing a surge in interest," Gonzales said. "We are processing thousands of applications per day."

Open enrollment as part of the Affordable Care Act continues through March 31.  Covered California said it has enrolled more than 156,000 people in private health plans through Dec. 7 and thousands more have started the application process.

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