News Column

Online Health Insurance Sign-ups May Be Delayed

August 23, 2013

Covered California, widely viewed as the model for state-run health insurance exchanges created under Obamacare, has told participating insurance companies it is not yet certain that consumers will be able to enroll themselves in medical coverage online when it opens for business Oct. 1.

An exchange spokesman, Oscar Hidalgo, said the agency is in the final phases of testing its computer system and should know in early September whether full self-service will be ready by the launch date. That message was communicated in a "routine" phone call on Wednesday to insurers that will be selling health plans through the exchange.

Covered California is still "very confident" that the system will be "fully functional" by Oct. 1, Hidalgo said. In the tests performed so far, "we have not run into any major issues that we couldn't repair or overcome," he said.

Hidalgo said that even if fully unassisted online enrollment is not available by Oct. 1, people will still be able from day-one to set up an account, shop for health plans and rates, and chat with an online counselor who can help them enroll. Enrollment assistance will also be available starting Oct. 1 via telephone or in person with counselors at numerous community organizations, he noted.

Hidalgo said most people will need time to become familiar with what the exchange is offering, and they are likely to prefer one-on-one contact with somebody who can walk them through the process. "So if everything is not ready on October 1, nothing is lost," he said. "We never contemplated that a lot of people would be self-enrolling Oct. 1 anyway."

Covered California, which will market health insurance policies both to individuals and businesses with less than 50 employees, is a central pillar of efforts that are expected to insure more than 5 million uninsured people in the state. Nationwide, nearly 30 million uninsured are expected to be added to the rolls of the insured over the next decade. Insurance marketplaces like Covered California -- operated by the state governments, by federal government or as partnership between the two -- will play a major role in that effort.

Many individuals purchasing coverage on the exchange will qualify for income-based federal tax credits to help them offset the cost of the insurance. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees can also get tax credits.

In Orange County, Anthem Blue Cross, Health Net, Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente will sell health plans to individuals and families through the exchange.

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Source: Copyright Orange County Register (CA) 2013

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