Covered California hosts enrollment workshops at LA libraries

The branch library in Panorama City is just one library hosting enrollment workshops for Covered California. Alice Walton/KPCC

With a looming deadline to get signed up for health insurance, officials around Los Angeles County hosted a number of enrollment events to encourage more participation in the Covered California health exchange. 

Dozens lined up outside the  Panorama City branch of the Los Angeles Public  Library on Saturday to get help enrolling.

It was one of many libraries throughout the county that has partnered with Covered California to host enrollment workshops. Saturday was the deadline to sign up for health insurance that will take effect on March 1. Open enrollment ends on March 31 and anyone without insurance after that date could face a tax penalty.

That’s why Mayra Albarado showed up to the Panorama City branch library.

“I’ve been trying to apply since December, and it’s just difficult trying to get an agent to speak to you,” Albarado said. “It’s actually pretty difficult to talk to someone right now, too. But, I just don’t want to get charged the fees.”

The workshops are also intended to reach out to the Latino community. Latinos make up half of California’s uninsured, and Covered California needs them to enroll in order for the exchange to work. But according to statistics released by Covered California last month, just 20 percent of enrollees were people who described themselves as Latino.

"We’re in the process of both fine-tuning the way we assess our enrollment demographics and, more importantly, building on our focus to ensure that more Latinos apply for and enroll in coverage,"  Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said in January. "We have much work to do over the next three months to build on our outreach to this important population and help those who have applied complete the process."

It’s not just Covered California that is concerned about Latinos’ enrollment numbers. Members of the Latino Caucus of state lawmakers have said Covered California needs to make greater efforts to reach out to the community. To that end, state Sen. Norma Torres introduced a bill that would expand the size of Covered California’ board and broaden its expertise.

"Covered California needs help improving its customer service, fixing technology glitches and enrolling a higher number of Latinos and young consumers," Torres said in a statement announcing the legislation. "Accountability starts at the top."