On track in California…

The news is starting to get out, in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, that California is moving ahead and is on track, despite the problems and negative attention of the federal health care website, www.healthcare.gov. Without the opposition that has tried to obstruct the law in other parts of the state, implementation of the Obamacare is proceeding apace.  Covered California, www.coveredca.com, the new insurance marketplace where individuals, families and small business may get financial assistance to pay for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), released data today and last week from their first month of operation, showing strong interest from hundreds of thousands of Californians, and enrollment from tens of thousands.

During the week ending Nov. 16, more than 476,000 unique visits were made to the website. Also, more than 70,000 calls — the largest weekly total to date — were logged by the Covered California Call Center.

The number of enrollment applications started surged by nearly 60,000, from 276,673 through Nov. 9 to 334,027 through Nov. 16. Last week, it was reported that the number of applications completed and accepted through Nov. 9th was 59,000–which was a nearly doubling since the 35,000 number from the end of October.

We are pleased that California is leading the nation in enrolling consumers in the new Affordable Care Act coverage options (nearly of third of the national figures in the month of October), but there is more work to do. Over a million Californians are already benefitting from new coverage options this year, and this data shows hundreds of thousands have started the process of signing up for new coverage to start January 1.

We never thought the first month of a six month enrollment period was an indicator of success or failure–but we look forward to the demographic data set ot be released on Thursday at the Covered California board meeting as a a helpful guide to where we should focus additional efforts. For context, only a couple hundred people in Massachusetts were signed up in the first months of their health reform effort in 2006, but now they have less than 1% uninsured. The experience in California and nationally is that enrollment starts slowly but then ramps up.

What the data shows is that the enrollment trend lines are going in the right direction, going from enrolling 1,000 Californians a day in October to 2,000 in November–a pace that would allow California to meet its goals by the end of open enrollment in March. We always expected that people will shop and compare in the October, and really start buying as we get closer to the end of the year. People generally don’t buy a car on their first visit to the lot–they want to kick the tires and comparison shop for a bit. We expect that the big spike of enrollment will be December 15, the deadline to select a plan for coverage for it to start January 1.

There is more that Covered California can and should do, to get more enrollment counselors on the street, to make it easier for organizations to help with enrollment, to focus marketing in key communities around the state. The latest stats show that there is a backlog of thousands of people who are waiting to be certified to help people enroll–over 4,000 enrollment counselors, and over 10,000 agents and brokers. Those folks and others need to be on the ground to make this work.

Mass enrollment is imperative: The more people we enroll, fewer people live sicker, die younger, and are one emergency away from financial ruin. For every person we don’t enroll, California leaves money in Washington, DC, rather than have those desperately-needed dollars come into our health system and economy. That’s our challenge in the next five months.