Officials from state health exchange Covered California are ramping up efforts to enroll people in health coverage as the deadline to sign up looms.
Tuesday is the last day to enroll in a health plan in California, two weeks earlier than the end-of-the-January deadline set in previous years.
Consumers who start an application before midnight will have through Jan. 18 to finish the process.
The push comes amid some confusion around the Affordable Care Act, which led to the creation of the Covered California exchange, where residents can buy subsidized private insurance coverage. This year is the first since the law, better known as Obamacare, took effect that people will not have to pay a fine for not having health insurance.
People who sign up for plans now will begin their coverage on Feb. 1.
“We’re actually expecting a last-minute flood of sign-ups,” said Covered California executive director Peter Lee. “It constantly boggles my mind how much we all wait until the last minute.”
On Monday, 15,000 people enrolled in coverage, he said.
As of mid-December, 1.2 million people in California had renewed their Covered California plans and 150,000 new customers had signed up for coverage, according to state data.
However, there are roughly 1.1 million people in the state who probably are eligible for subsidized coverage through the exchange but have not yet enrolled, Lee said.
The Affordable Care Act mandated that everyone sign up for health insurance or pay a penalty. But Congress undid that provision of the law, a change that experts fear will lead to fewer people signing up.
A study released this month in the journal Health Affairs found that 19% of Californians who signed up for coverage through the exchange in 2017 would not have done so if not for the penalty.
“Our study found that younger enrollees and those without chronic conditions were more likely to not purchase insurance if there had been no penalty,” said report author Vicki Fung, who works at the Mongan Institute Health Policy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Moreover, Hispanic enrollees, those with lower income and education levels, and those who had been uninsured in the prior year were also more likely to say they would not have purchased insurance.”
In California, only about 7% of the population buys insurance through the individual market, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The most common insurance sources are through an employer — 47% — and Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health plan — 26%.