After a slow start, Molina Healthcare Inc. is looking for bigger enrollment in California's health insurance exchange in the next three months.
The publicly traded company based in Long Beach had only 521 enrollees in the Covered California exchange, or less than 1% market share, through Nov. 30.
Molina has traditionally served patients enrolled in Medicaid and other government programs, so its presence on nine state exchanges across the country marks a major move into the broader commercial insurance market.
Citigroup healthcare analyst Carl McDonald said Molina's meager enrollment through the end of November was a "disappointment as the company has invested significant resources into its exchange business."
J. Mario Molina, the company's chief executive, said his core customers were more likely to sign up closer to the end of open enrollment on March 31. He said the state's biggest insurers, such as Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had probably enrolled many of their previously insured members who had to find replacement policies.
Molina's enrollment "is probably lower than expected and that reflects the fact that our target audience has been slow to enroll," Molina said.
"We are going after low-income uninsured people. We aren't interested in the group that has previously been insured," he added. "We aren't trying to cannibalize Kaiser or Blue Shield or Blue Cross."
The Nov. 30 figures don't reflect the late surge of enrollment in California ahead of this past Monday's deadline to get Obamacare coverage starting Jan. 1.
More than 100,000 Californians picked private health plans from Dec. 20 to 23, putting overall enrollment past 400,000 in the state exchange. New company data is expected to be available next month.
So far, California's four largest health insurers have dominated the exchange with a combined 96% share of the market. Anthem Blue Cross was the early leader with 32,241 enrollees, or 30% market share, through Nov. 30.
Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente are close behind, followed by Health Net Inc. in fourth place.
Some healthcare experts have questioned whether the early dominance of the four largest insurers portends a lack of competition in the exchange if small upstarts can't gain a foothold.
Exchange officials have said the competitive angle is better judged on a regional basis because many of the smaller health plans aren't selling statewide.
In addition to battling established rivals, Molina also has to introduce itself to many consumers who are unfamiliar with the company.
To remedy that, Molina is running an advertising campaign featuring TV spots showing family members enjoying a picnic and games at a park. The company's tag line is "Molina: Your extended family."
The family-run company was started in 1980 by Molina's father, C. David, an emergency room physician who often treated poor patients who had been turned away by doctors who refused to participate in the state's Medicaid program.
"For many people," Molina said, "they don't know who we are."
Friday was the deadline for Californians to finish exchange applications they started prior to the Dec. 23 deadline to have coverage starting in January.
Covered California allowed that grace period to accommodate people who had trouble completing enrollment because of website problems and long waits amid a flood of applicants earlier in the week.