Big numbers for California

New numbers suggest around a million and a half Californians are getting financial assistance with new coverage options under a new expansion of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting on day one of 2014.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reported today that over 498,000 Californians having picked a plan in the new Covered California marketplace to be ready to start January 1. If they pay their first premiums in time by January 15th, they’ll be covered starting January 1. In addition, over 630,000 Californians in county-based Low-Income Health Programs will be shifted into full Medi-Cal coverage starting in January 1. Over 400,0000 more have signed up for new Medi-Cal coverage through Covered California, the counties, and other portals.

And these numbers don’t include the over 400,000 young adults up to age 26 now on their parents coverage, or those who are buying new (or continued) guaranteed issue health insurance plans.

That means hundreds of thousands more Californians are either newly covered, or have coverage that is cheaper or better than what they had before–and likely millions will be helped by the end of the new year. We are pleased California is leading in the nation, with over a fifth of the national plan sign-ups, a result of our state appropriately taking full advantage of the solutions offered by the Affordable Care Act.

We are pleased with the progress, but there is much more to do. California is meeting our marks, but it’s only halftime in this enrollment effort, and we expect a big surge as we approach the March deadlines. Now the work continues, and becomes more urgent–every day we leave folks un-enrolled is a day we are leaving money in Washington, DC, rather than having those dollars come into the health system on which we all rely, our economy, and our community. We have three more months to outreach to and educate Californians about the new options provided by the Affordable Care Act, and we need to use every last day. Going uninsured for even a month leaves Californians and families one emergency away from financial ruin, and our health system, our community and our economy worse off.

Those we seek out in the next three months will be by definition harder to sign up than the ones who signed up in the last three months. We should and will learn the lessons of the last three months to improve the work of enrollment, from improved information technology, to more and better trained enrollment counselors, to more targeted outreach in California’s diverse communities. We also need to provide more help to those who may be left behind and uninsured, due to the income or immigration status. California had led in taking advantage of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but we can and should do better in key areas.