California health insurance exchange lauded after first week, despite some growing pains 

click to enlarge Covered California
  • AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
  • Gina Macaluso, an employee of Covered California, the state's new health care exchange, provides health insurance at the newly opened call center in Rancho Cordova, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.
In its first week, Covered California received tens of thousands of completed and partially completed applications for health insurance, nearly a million website visits and countless system glitches and delays.

“The response” to the rollout of the federal Affordable Care Act, Peter Lee, the insurance exchange’s executive director, said, “has been nothing short of phenomenal.”

He said Tuesday that the outpouring of consumer interest has also led to an outpouring of media coverage focused on website and telephone problems, while providing “disinformation” and “misinformation” that few people have signed up.

“People have comments that tried to derail something and point at glitches and questions of, ‘Are people really interested?’” Lee said. “You can’t derail something that has already left the station, and Covered California has left the station and is going very strong.”

Officials are pleased with the 16,311 applications with household eligibility that were completed between Oct. 1 and Saturday. They didn’t have a goal for Week 1, according to Lee.

“We anticipated we would have very low enrollment our first week. I said tongue-in-cheek that two people would enroll,” he said. “What we have estimated is that over the first six months, between 500,000 and 700,000 Californians would enroll.”

Call wait times averaged about 15 minutes initially, but fell to four minutes by Friday. The target is for 80 percent of callers to wait 30 seconds or less.

Covered California also was the first state to offer an insurance provider directory.

“Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. Has it been pretty darn good? Absolutely,” Lee said of CoveredCA.com, which launched on time and within its $313 million budget.

However, the experience has not been satisfactory for every agency involved.

Angela Sun, executive director of the Chinese Community Health Resource Center in San Francisco, said her 10 Covered California-certified counselors have not received all the login and identification materials they need.

“I know that Covered California is trying their best, but I know the public is quite frustrated,” Sun said. “We have on average about 40-some walk-ins and phone calls and we have made many appointments and had to reschedule them. So there is a lot of interest in the community, but also a lot of anxiety.”

In the meantime, the center’s counselors — fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish — have been assisting community members to determine what they might qualify for based on their income. Lee said that despite some issues, those who have received help were satisfied.

“It’s about real peoples’ lives that are being touched,” he said. “It’s the first time that affordable care is being offered and can’t be denied.”

Week 1 of Covered California

The rollout of the state’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act had its ups and downs.

987,440 Unique visits to CoveredCA.com

59,003 Call volume

15:08 Average wait time*

16:48 Average handling time

43,616 Applications

27,305 Partially completed applications

16,311 Applications completed with household eligibility determined

28,699 Californians determined eligible for coverage

430 Small Business Health Options Program businesses registered as of Oct. 8

*Average wait time reduced to less than four minutes by Oct. 4

Source: Covered California

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

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Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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