Covered California said Monday it was sticking to an enrollment deadline at the end of the day for people to have insurance coverage effective at the start of the year -- but it gave wiggle room for those who began applications and couldn't finish them.
"If you've made a good-faith effort to start your application, and you're held up, you can finish it tomorrow (Tuesday)," Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said Monday afternoon during a teleconference from Sacramento.
On Monday, the federal government announced it was extending the insurance enrollment deadline by a day -- until midnight Tuesday -- for people to enroll in health plans through the federal government's website. Thirty-six states opted to have the federal government handle insurance enrollments for the Affordable Care Act.
Californians enroll through Covered California, an agency created to provide access to affordable health plans, and Lee said the agency was keeping the deadline for people who wanted insurance coverage to begin Jan. 1.
But Lee acknowledged people could hit roadblocks in enrolling.
Californians could expect long waiting times to talk to enrollment counselors at the three Covered California call centers, including one in Fresno. And heavy online traffic at the agency's website, www.CoveredCa.com, also would mean slower page loads to complete an application, he said.
About 400,000 Californians have enrolled in health plans offered through the state's health benefit exchange, Lee said. About 77,000 enrolled Friday and over the weekend. The online enrollment system had its biggest day Friday, with more than 29,000 enrollments. Sunday, a typically "quiet day," had 27,000 people enroll, he said.
Monday was the "red-letter day" to enroll to have coverage start Jan. 1, Lee said, and he encouraged Californians to enroll. But Lee offered help for those stymied by computer glitches and busy signals at call centers. "If there's a bug, a hiccup, we're going to get you across the finish line."
At Clinica Sierra Vista health centers in Fresno, enrollment counselors were busy Monday -- but no more so than they have been the past month, said Kevin Hamilton, deputy director.
"Our schedules are full," Hamilton said, but counselors will be available to help people complete applications until noon Tuesday, he said. "We take walk-ins every day. We manage to fit people in or we schedule them back for the next day."
For those who missed Monday's deadline to enroll, open enrollment will continue through March 31 for coverage in 2014, Lee said. "After that, you might be subject to a penalty."
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