Amid political stalemate in the nation’s capital over funding of the Affordable Care Act, the state’s online health exchange established under the law, called Covered California, went live Tuesday after months of anticipation and preparation.
The exchange’s website, www.coveredca.com, began enrolling Californians at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and has experienced significant traffic on its first day, spokeswoman Anne Gonzales told the Business Journal.
The website received 6450,000 hits on Tuesday, significantly less than the initial 5 million that Covered California had reported, spokesman Dana Howard told the Los Angeles Times. Covered California issued a press release with the 5 million figure, but Mr. Howard said someone at the exchange had misspoken.
By 3 p.m. Covered California said it had logged in some 17,000 phone calls to its service centers in Rancho Cordova, Concord and Fresno.
“We know we were receiving thousands of hits every second, and the high volume could have been slowing down the site, but improvements have been made and the web site is fully operational,” Ms. Gonzales said. She said the exchange won’t be releasing enrollment figures because submitted applications need turnaround time to be effective.
The exchange was also poised to release final rates for its Small Business Health Options, or SHOP, program for employers with 50 or fewer workers, but Ms. Gonzales told the Business Journal that enrollment has occupied the exchange’s efforts thus far. An exact time frame of when SHOP rates would be released was not provided.
For Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties, region 2 out of 19 in the health exchange, the following health plans will participate on the individual side, hoping to serve some 44,000 exchange-eligible residents: Western Health Advantage, Blue Shield of California, Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente and Health Net of California.
In the SHOP program, the same carriers except Anthem will offer health plans. Lake and Mendocino counties are part of region 1, with the same participating health plans on the SHOP side. On the individual side for Lake and Mendocino, Anthem, Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente will offer a range of plans to some 97,000 residents in that region will be eligible for subsidies.
“We are proud to partner with Covered California,” Garry Maisel, Western Health Advantage president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This is an essential piece of health care reform that will modernize enrollment and broaden access to health insurance for millions of uninsured and low-income Californians.”
Kaiser in a statement said its network 0f California facilities is ready for Covered California enrollees.
“Our network for Covered California will be the very same broad and comprehensive system we already provide to our 7 million members in California. In other words, all of our members — including those in Covered California — will have access to Kaiser Permanente’s broad and comprehensive health care system,” said Judy Coffey, senior vice president of Kaiser’s Marin–Sonoma service area. “For more than 60 years, Kaiser Permanente has championed universal health care coverage and this milestone takes us another big step toward to that reality.”
A number of North Bay health care providers have helped Covered California with enrollment and providing information, among them Petaluma-based Redwood Community Health Coalition, a network of 16 health centers across Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Yolo counties.
The coalition estimates there are more than 110,000 uninsured residents in those counties who won’t qualify for the Medi-Cal expansion under health care reform , but will qualify for financial assistance to purchase health plans through the exchange. Federal and state subsidies will be made available to uninsured residents with incomes between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line in an effort to help them obtain health coverage.
Correction, Oct. 2, 2013: Kaiser Permanente released a comment Tuesday through Judy Coffey, senior vice president of Kaiser’s Marin–Sonoma service area. The previous version had an incorrect name.
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