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Slow Obamacare start doesn't reflect coverage demand, union says

A spokesman for a large labor group active in enrolling uninsured people in the California's new healthcare insurance marketplace said his organization has been encouraged by the early reaction to Obamacare.

The comments came as initial enrollment figures released nationally showed signups for insurance under the administration's health care overhaul were falling short of expectations.

"There's an eagerness to learn more," said Sean Wherley, of Service Employees Union International-United Healthcare Workers West, whose members are fanning out to enroll uninsured Californians in private insurance plans and Medi-Cal, the state's healthcare program for the poor. "These are people that have gone months and years without insurance, and some of them are crying -- literally -- when they complete the process."

SEIU has been knocking on doors and hosting events to inform uninsured people about Obamacare options for some months. According to Wherley, the enrollment events typically attract several hundred people.  Approximately 1,500 people attended the union's Sacramento enrollment fair last weekend, he said, with 496 starting the process of getting healthcare coverage.  He did not know what portion of that group completed applications, he said.

Earlier in the month, the union said it hoped to enroll 1,000 people at the event. Wherley said his group expected more certified enrollment counselors to be available to help.

Many people don't know if they're eligible for coverage, he said, and don't have documents on hand to begin the process. He noted they will have additional opportunities to complete their enrollment, including at a second Sacramento event this weekend co-sponsored by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson.

"As the deadline nears to get coverage, we think you'll see numbers pick up dramatically," Wherley said. 


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