Insurance agents scrambled to help Californians sign up for new government-mandated healthcare programs Monday, the official deadline to sign up under the Affordable Care Act.
Although the national deadline was extended for those signing up on healthcare.gov until Tuesday night, Californians did not get such an extension. This is because California's healthcare exchange, Covered California, is managed independently of the federal exchange.
Vickie Medeiros, an account manager at Western Valley Insurance, said she received no word of a deadline extension in California.
“We haven’t received any kind of word from our carriers, from Covered California, or from the Department of Insurance that says they’re going to honor that Dec. 24 deadline, and as I understand it, applicants even to qualify for the extension have to have started their application today or by today but complete it no later than tomorrow,” said Medeiros.
“I know that we are frantically trying to get the last-minute enrollees in the system and aren’t very successful right now, because the system Covered California is slow or down completely and we’re not able to start and finish an application in one sitting.”
Steve Richardson, a Turlock Allstate agent, has seen clients have a lot of trouble signing up for the new government-mandated healthcare. From slow websites to hours on-hold, Richardson said he has not seen much success with Covered California.
“We actually haven’t had anybody that’s went all the way through the sign-up process,” said Richardson. “We had a lot of people that started, a lot of people that had pre-existing [conditions] that couldn’t get insurance before trying to go through it and then they find out the amount that they have to pay and pretty much everybody walks away from it at that point.”
As for prices, the cost increases many have seen has hit close to home for Richardson.
“I’ve been self-insured for almost 30 years now. On not just Allstate but other businesses, so me and my family have been insured for years,” said Richardson. “Now that they went to the state thing I go to the state and went in there maybe three months ago, and it was $800 dollars for my family. I went in there about four weeks ago, it was over $2,500 a month for my family. And then I went back about 7 days ago, and it was down to $200.”
Richardson was not only confused by the fluctuations in quotes, but frustrated – especially by the extremely high quote he received on his second attempt.
“I’ve got a family of six… a large family, and they’re saying it’s affordable. Currently I have my health insurance with Kaiser for just a little under $700 a month for my family, and we’re very happy with what we’ve got. Kaiser sent us a note saying that they’re going to roll us over to the new program at like $2,500 a month which is, well, we can’t afford it.”
The “rollover” Kaiser called on Richardson’s family was made in response to the minimum essential coverage part of the law, that states that insurance must cover certain aspects in providing acceptable insurance. Although Richardson is happy with his current plan at Kaiser, he must change to the government-mandated plan that has been quoted at a higher price – more than three times what he is currently paying for monthly healthcare.
“I’ve been insured for the last 30-something years, and on the first of the year or whenever they put the new rates into place we’ll actually be uninsured now because of the new Obama program,” said Richardson.
At Western Valley Insurance though, Medeiros said that the transition to Obamacare has gone smoothly.
Medeiros said that Western Valley Insurance has been successful in signing up at least 200 applicants since October. Monday was the first day they had trouble signing people up, due to the influx of last-minute applicants racing to beat the deadline.
“The system is overloaded today,” said Medeiros. “We have a lot of people reaching out to us today because they know that today is the deadline and they are trying to get enrolled for coverage effective Jan. 1.”
The increased outreach clearly went beyond Western Valley Insurance clients, as the Covered California site itself was struggling to keep up for the first time today.
“What we’re experiencing right now is that it’s an extremely slow process and most applications that we have started today, we have not yet been able to finalize because the system crashes, or just kicks us out, or cycles and we’re not able to complete,” said Medeiros.
Regardless of website issues, the main frustration for Richardson lies in the price increase he will see for his family, and the increases he saw quoted for many clients since October.
“It’s not affordable like they promised. They said people’s rates were going to go down, or stay the same, or you could keep your existing plan,” said Richardson. “Well we can’t keep the existing plan because of the insurance companies – of course they don’t want to keep the existing plans, because they’re less money than what the new state plans are.”
As for what Richardson plans to do about the increase, “We’ll just be like everybody else – uninsured going when we need it, and we’ll have to pay for it I guess.”
This means that Richardson will have to pay a personal responsibility fee for being uninsured in 2014. The fees for 2014 will be $95 a person ($47.50 per child) or 1 percent of his yearly household income – whichever amount is higher. Richardson and his wife have four children in their family.
“It’s cheaper than $2,500 a month. $30,000 a year for someone who makes $70,000 a year is just not doable,” said Richardson.
“We have to drop our insurance.”
While some Californians accessed coveredca.com late into the night in order to enroll in the new plan, others, like the Richardsons, are choosing to opt out.
Open enrollment still rolls through the end of March, but enrollment by Monday guaranteed coverage beginning at the first opportunity – Jan. 1. Uninsured citizens will not pay a fine so long as they sign up for insurance by the end of March.