California enrolls 11,357 in first 4 days of Obamacare open enrollment

Covered California's executive director, Peter Lee, discusses the launch of open enrollment in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 14 during a statewide bus tour.
(Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)

California’s insurance exchange said 11,357 new people signed up for Obamacare coverage in the first four days of open enrollment.

The second year of sign-ups under the Affordable Care Act began Saturday, and the Covered California exchange said it was ahead of last year’s pace. Enrollment runs through Feb. 15.

Last year, it took 15 days for the state to reach 11,000 enrollees when the health-law expansion first launched in October 2013.


The state said another 33,368 applicants have been deemed eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.

“We are continuing to see tremendous interest,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. “There still is a lot of work to do, though.”

The state didn’t immediately release figures on renewals of private health plans.

About 1.2 million Californians enrolled in the first open enrollment, and they face a Dec. 15 deadline if they want to change coverage for Jan. 1.

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

More than 2.2 million Californians have been added to the Medi-Cal program in 2014. Medi-Cal enrollment is open year round.

Tuesday, California regulators issued a report finding that Covered California’s two biggest insurers violated state law by significantly overstating the number of doctors available to patients.


The error rates for Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of WellPoint Inc., and Blue Shield of California both topped 25%, according to the California Department of Managed Health Care.

Anthem and Blue Shield disputed the state’s findings and said the agency’s survey methods were flawed.

In another troubling sign for consumers, California’s exchange continues to struggle at answering the phone.

In October, 27% of calls were picked up within 30 seconds. That’s far short of the state’s 80% goal for customer service.

Another 31% of callers gave up entirely and abandoned their calls in October, according to state data.

An exchange spokesman said response times have improved since October, but the state is receiving a heavy call volume. Some callers reported wait times of an hour on Thursday.


Spokesman Dana Howard said consumers should use the Covered California website to find a local insurance agent or certified enrollment counselor to help them in person.

“We do encourage people to see someone in person,” Howard said. “That will be the most effective way for people to enroll.”

Covered California spent $13.4 million to hire two outside firms to help answer calls and it nearly doubled the number of call-center workers in preparation for open enrollment.

The exchange said its revamped website was working for the majority of consumers thus far. In the first four days, the site logged 314,000 unique visitors, according to the state.

Twitter: @chadterhune