| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 12 California's Obamacare
insurance marketplace experienced a surge in enrollment last
week, officials said on Thursday, offering welcome news for
President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare law from a state
crucial to its success.
Some 144,146 applications were completed and 49,708 people
selected commercial plans in the first week of December,
compared to 403,323 completed applications and 109,296
enrollments in the previous two months since the Covered
California marketplace opened, officials said.
At that rate, California would meet its 2013 enrollment
"This is a good day for Californians," Peter Lee, executive
director of Covered California, the state's Obamacare
marketplace, told reporters. "We are seeing real momentum."
California is arguably the most crucial state for Obamacare.
It has more uninsured people than any other state (7.4 million
in 2011), and the law's supporters are counting on Californians
to make up a good fraction of the 7 million people the White
House hopes to enroll in health insurance through the law during
this first open enrollment period, which runs through March 31.
On Wednesday, federal officials announced that 365,000
people nationwide had chosen a health insurance plan through
their state's Obamacare exchange through the end of November.
California accounted for 109,276 of those, Lee said.
Altogether, the 50 states and the District of Columbia had
reached only 30 percent of their combined enrollment targets
through Nov. 30, in large part because of disastrous technical
problems with the federal website, Healthcare.gov, through which
people in 36 states access Obamacare plans. California's website
has not suffered those technical problems.
The enrollment momentum the state saw in the first week of
December grew this week, Lee said, with about 31,000
Californians choosing a commercial plan on Dec. 8 and 9.
"Enrollments and applications are surging, and we at Covered
California - and our partners - are stepping up our game to meet
the demand," Lee said.
LATINO ENROLLMENT LOW
In advance of the Dec. 23 deadline for enrolling in a plan
for coverage to begin on Jan. 1, he said, enrollment workers
will be on the job the next two Sundays and the state will
institute a speeded-up way to enroll people by paper if they
cannot do so on the website.
In another hopeful sign for the law's supporters, 22 percent
of California's October and November enrollees were aged 18 to
34, an age group that constitutes about 25 percent of the
Health economists and insurance companies have warned that
unless significant numbers of young adults enroll in the
commercial plans being sold under the Affordable Care Act, the
plans could be financially unsustainable.
In a more worrisome trend, Californians aged 45 to 64
accounted for 45,945 enrollees, or 58 percent of the total. They
make up 25 percent of the population. There is concern that if
older adults make up too much of the insurance pool, their
often-higher medical claims will also threaten the plans.
In addition to the Californians who have chosen a commercial
insurance plan, since October 179,000 people were determined to
be likely eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program
for low-income people. Medi-Cal is expected to enroll 1 million
to 2 million more people by next March, Lee said; before
Obamacare enrollment began it covered 8.5 million.
One disappointment is that Latinos are enrolling in
Obamacare at rates much lower than their proportion of the
state's population. About 29 percent of Californians are Spanish
speakers, but they make up only 4.6 percent of enrollees so far.
"That's not as high as we want" and "an area where we need
to do more," said Lee, adding that Covered California will
conduct an review of its marketing to see why the program is not
attracting more Latinos.
(Reporting by Sharon Begley; Editing by Eric Beech)