Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Feds launch website, 24-hour phone number as Affordable Care Act enrollment nears

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Covering California series icon 2013

The Obama Administration launched two new resources on Monday to help people prepare to enroll in state health insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, starting in October.

One was a revamped HealthCare.gov website, which includes a questionnaire that helps users see what options they'll have for insurance when open enrollment begins in October. The site, which also offers the option of chatting with a customer service representative, answers questions about health care reform in general, but directs California residents to the website of the state's exchange, called Covered California.

The other was a 24-hour number people can call to ask questions about the health insurance marketplaces: 1-800-318-2596.

Both the website and the phone line are available in Spanish, and the phone line can also help callers in more than 150 languages through an interpretation service.

RELATED: Subsidies? Provider networks? What these Obamacare terms mean to you

When it comes to the uninsured in South Los Angeles, it's hard to predict the breakdown between those who will purchase insurance through California's exchange and those who enroll as a new Medi-Cal beneficiary when the program expands next year.

Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, says that's in part because the area has so many "poverty pockets." She added that as far as the patients that use the coalition's eight clinics, it's likely that more of them will go the Medi-Cal route.

"Those folks are probably not going to be able to afford to buy into the exchange," Vaccaro said. She also noted that as long as they meet the income and citizenship or residency requirements, they'll be eligible to join Medi-Cal as part of the expansion.

Some will benefit from the exchange, though.

"There are some areas where folks are working and they just can't afford coverage out of their own pocket," said Vaccaro. "And those are folks that are going to benefit from Covered California. But they have higher income."

According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more functionality will be added to the website in the coming months so that by October – when open enrollment for the exchanges begins – users will be able to create their own account, shop for plans and apply online. Starting in October, the 24-hour phone line will also be able to help people select plans and complete applications.

As of Tuesday, the HealthCare.gov website said there were 98 days left until open enrollment begins on October 1. Coverage for those plans goes into effect on the first day of 2014.

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