Five things to watch for in California’s launch of Obamacare

Consumers learn more about the health plans available in California's insurance exchange at a recent health fair in East Los Angeles.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

California raises the curtain on its new health insurance marketplace Tuesday, offering new options for millions of consumers as part of Obamacare.

Officials are holding a series of events across the state to promote the start of a six-month enrollment window beginning Oct. 1.

Covered California, the state’s new exchange, is trying to reach more than 5 million people who are uninsured or don’t receive health insurance through work. The rollout in California will be closely watched nationwide as a key barometer of President Obama’s signature law.


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“This is our Super Bowl,” said Covered California board member Robert Ross. “This is our championship game to get it right.”

Here are five key issues to watch in California:

1. Does the state computer system crash?

State officials have warned the public for months about the potential for bumps in the road, and much of the concern has centered on the readiness of a multimillion-dollar online enrollment system.

Other states, such as Oregon, said their websites wouldn’t be fully operational Oct. 1. But California officials insist that they’ll be ready.

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2. Will the state reach its enrollment goals?

By the end of 2014, California wants to enroll 1.2 million residents in subsidized private insurance and an additional 1.1 million in an expanded Medi-Cal program.

Officials don’t expect many buyers the first few days, but rather a lot of window shopping. They are hoping for a surge of enrollment in November and December, as well as a last-minute uptick before open enrollment closes March 31.

3. Will Californians experience sticker shock?

The state announced lower-than-expected rates in May, and outside reviews since then have shown that California’s premiums compare favorably to other states.

But some consumers with good incomes won’t qualify for federal premium subsidies and may bristle at paying the full price. Existing policyholders may also see hefty increases because the healthcare law requires more comprehensive benefits and guaranteed coverage for all.

4. Can California offer enough enrollment help?

The state predicts about 80% of people will need face-to-face help to sort through their coverage options and finish the enrollment process.

California estimates that it needs about 16,000 enrollment counselors statewide. At last count, according to the state, fewer than 1,000 had been approved and trained. There’s a similar delay in getting insurance agents through training.

5. Will patients be able to see the doctor?

To hold down premiums, many insurers squeezed the number of doctors and hospitals in their provider networks. As a result, some consumers may lose access to a longtime doctor or face longer waits to get an appointment.

Consumer advocates say state rules ensuring “timely access” to patient care should help guard against any problems.


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