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Website glitch slows Obamacare enrollment in California

Website glitch slows Obamacare enrollment in California
Young people learn about health coverage under the Affordable Care Act at a Los Angeles festival last fall. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)

Enrollment in Obamacare coverage slowed last month in California, hurt by a recent website outage.

New federal data show 868,936 Californians signed up for health insurance in the state's exchange through March 1.

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But that's a modest gain of about 40,000 people since mid-February. More than 100,000 people had picked a health plan during the first two weeks of February, according to the Covered California exchange.

The rate of enrollment fell from about 7,000 a day to less than 3,000 a day. California is a key state for the rollout of President Obama's signature law.

Covered California attributed much of the drop-off to a five-day outage for its online enrollment system in late February, which frustrated many consumers, enrollment counselors and insurance agents.

Exchange spokesman Dana Howard said sign-ups bounced back after online enrollment was restored. He said daily enrollment topped 10,000 people for several days.

"The interest is still there," Howard said. "In March, we have really picked up."

Covered California is scheduled to release its own detailed enrollment figures Thursday.

Some enrollment counselors said California's website was offline Tuesday or running slow. The exchange said users may be "temporarily experiencing some slow times, possibly because of high volume."

The recent computer problems come as the exchange rolls out new ads to boost enrollment, particularly among young people and Latinos.

The federal data show that the percentage of California enrollees who are ages 18 to 34 is 26%, up one percentage point from the end of December.

Nationally, 25% of the 4.2 million Americans who have signed up are in that age group.

Open enrollment closes March 31 under the Affordable Care Act, and Obama administration officials reiterated Tuesday that they don't plan to extend the deadline.

California's website, at coveredca.com, has generally performed better than the federal exchange site, healthcare.gov, which had a disastrous launch in the fall.

But Covered California has experienced problems with long wait times on the phone, faulty notices sent to applicants and an error-ridden physician directory that got pulled last month.

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