The Health Beat Blog

Wednesday, Mar 05 2014 09:07 AM

Kern enrollment in Covered California hits 8,000-plus

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    By AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

    Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state agency running the state's new health exchange, announces the plans and prices that will be offered by private insurers during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, May 23, 2013.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

There were nearly 7,294 people enrolled in subsidized Covered California plans in Kern County and another 824 in unsubsidized plans as of Jan. 31, according to newly released data from the state.

While Kern accounts for 2.3 percent of California's population, it only accounted for 1.1 percent of Covered California enrollments for the period, the numbers from Covered California and the California Department of Health Care Services show.

Clinica Sierra Vista CEO Steve Schilling blamed the lackluster showing on the "inconsistent" performance of the health exchange's web portal.

"I'm not overwhelmed with the operational success of the Covered California website," he said.

Angry patients are taking it out on certified enrollment counselors when they can't submit applications for health insurance online or have to repeat work they've already done, and that's not fair to staff, Schilling said.

Covered California last week started restoring data from applications completed during a software malfunction Feb. 17 through Feb. 19. Officials also are asking some consumers to resubmit their information.

About 14,500 consumers who partially completed their applications or submitted updates to existing applications on those days are affected.

The Central Valley counties of Kern, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare represented about 7 percent of the statewide enrollment in subsidized and unsubsidized plans.

Enrollment in those counties rose 56 percent from the 33,133 enrollments recorded in the Central Valley through Dec. 31, 2013.

The state announced last month that it has already exceeded its 2014 enrollment goals even though the open enrollment deadline to buy health insurance isn't until March 31.

With a push from campaigns to boost enrollment of Latinos and young adults, California had more than 45,000 people signed up in January, according to the exchange.

Applications for health insurance have been gaining momentum as the open enrollment deadline looms, but some consumers have been frustrated with the process for signing up online.

Although the state says the website is functional again, certified enrollment counselors at Clinica Sierra Vista said they continue to have trouble.

"We're having this episodic problem where sometimes we can enroll people and sometimes we can't," said chief of programs Bill Phelps, who estimates the clinic has been doing 300 to 400 applications a week.

"We're in a state with the greatest technology and software minds in the world in the Silicon Valley. I just don't understand why this continues to be an issue," Phelps added.

Covered California spokesman Larry Hicks said the exchange is doing its best to make sure the web portal is operating properly.

"We've had our challenges, and we've tried to respond to those as quickly as we can," he said.

The exchange has stepped up hiring at its call center, for instance, to deal with a spike in incoming phone inquiries.

Debbie Wood, coordinator of school health for the Bakersfield City School District, said she hasn't had any problems with the website while signing up three or four families a day in recent weeks.

But she's bracing herself for a rush toward the end of the month.

"It's started picking up, definitely," she said.

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