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Friday, Feb 21 2014 06:25 PM

Software glitch knocks out Covered California portal

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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

People scrambling to get signed up for health insurance ahead of a March 31 open enrollment deadline have been frustrated by a software glitch that interrupted service at the Covered California web portal, which was still down as of Friday.

Late last week, some users who tried to enroll in the state's online marketplace for the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act found the site froze up on them as they were completing or submitting applications.

Covered California's enrollment function was taken offline Wednesday afternoon to address the software malfunction. During the system outage, consumers could visit the website's information pages and use its shop and compare tool, but they could not enroll in health plans.

The shutdown came at a difficult time, as people who don't have health insurance have until March 31 to purchase it or face penalties when they file 2014 taxes.

At Clinica Sierra Vista in Bakersfield, certified counselors were gathering application information on paper with the intention of entering the data when the system came back up again.

"It's going to cause a delay in the process at a time when we're really busy," said chief of programs Bill Phelps, who said the clinic has been doing 300 to 400 applications a week and expects that to increase as the deadline draws near.

Technical issues marred the launch of the portal last fall.

A Covered California spokeswoman said she didn't think losing service briefly this month would halt the momentum that has built since those issues were sorted out.

"We are exceeding our projections for enrollment, and I don't think a two-day delay is going to stop anyone from getting insurance by March 31," said Anne Gonzales.

Gonzales added that no one wants consumers to be frustrated, which is why the site was taken down -- to fix it so that it works properly.

As of Jan. 31, more than 1.6 million Californians had signed up for either Covered California health insurance plans or for low-cost or no-cost Medi-Cal, according to Covered California and the California Department of Health Care Services.

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