California's health insurance exchange said more than 25,000 people enrolled in health plans Monday — the deadline to apply for coverage starting Jan. 1 — and it gave an extension to those who encountered problems signing up.
The Covered California exchange acknowledged that many consumers, insurance agents and enrollment counselors ran into website problems, long waits and other delays amid a flood of interest. Those who started applications but could not finish them now have a Friday deadline. New applicants can get plans taking effect Feb. 1.
The federal exchange for 36 other states granted a similar reprieve for consumers who experienced trouble enrolling.
California's enrollment was higher Friday, when 29,000 people picked an insurance company as part of the federal healthcare law. Overall, more than 400,000 Californians have enrolled in health plans since Oct. 1, and 180,000 people had qualified for an expansion of Medi-Cal as of the end of November.
The exchange might have enrolled more people Monday, but some applicants experienced delays, said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.
"We didn't do as well on a high-volume day," he said. "Our system slowed down, and people had trouble getting through."
He said only about half the people enrolling Monday said in a customer survey that it was easy.
"We will have a case-by-case appeal process for people who say, 'I was on the phone and couldn't get through. I couldn't start online,'" Lee said. "There are stragglers, and we will get them in."
California's call centers will be closed Christmas and will reopen Thursday. Online enrollment at http://www.coveredca.com will remain available during the holiday.
Open enrollment continues through March 31 if people miss this week's deadline. The California exchange and insurers are also reminding consumers to pay their first month's premium by Jan. 6 in order for coverage to be retroactive to Jan. 1.
Home-health worker Rosa Menjivar, 53, of Boyle Heights stood in line at a Covered California kiosk at a Los Angeles mall for the second day in a row Tuesday. An enrollment counselor couldn't help her Monday because of computer problems with the state enrollment system.
She tired of waiting again Tuesday, and she said she would try enrolling online at home. Menjivar said she has insurance through her job, but she wanted to see if she qualifies for federal premium subsidies and better coverage.
"I'll just give it a shot," she said. "I don't want to spend hours waiting around here."
Insurance companies in the exchange were upbeat about the strong demand for coverage, and they vowed to get invoices and insurance cards out on time.
"I'm very encouraged by what I've seen with the surge at Covered California and for the federal exchange," said J. Mario Molina, chief executive of Molina Healthcare Inc., one of California's 11 health plans. "The websites are working, and we expected many would wait until the last minute to enroll."