A "huge surge" of signups for health insurance plans on the state marketplace is slowing its website as Californians rush to apply before Monday's deadline passes, according to the head of Covered California.
"We had more accounts opened yesterday [Sunday] than in any day ever in the last six months," Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee told reporters, noting that nearly 156,000 people enrolled in a health plan between March 24th and March 31st.
As of 2 a.m. Monday, more than 1.2 million Californians had signed up for a plan through Covered California since open enrollment began last October 1st, Lee said, adding that many more are expected to do so by the end of the day.
Covered California is taking several actions to deal with the last-minute crush, Lee said. First, he said it has turned off the website's "preview plans" function – which had been slowing the already overloaded system and contributing to online delays.
Second, if the online system becomes too bogged down, those who are attempting to complete an application will be logged off the system with a message telling them to come back and complete their enrollment before April 15, said Lee.
"We will say, 'thank you, congratulations, you have started the account…please come back tomorrow or the next day to finish your application.' And they will be logged out of the system," he said. "We know that’s not ideal – we’d like people to finish…but we want to make sure that people who want to enroll get into the system."
Last week, the Obama Administration extended the open enrollment deadline to April 15 for those who had made a good faith effort to enroll in health insurance by the end of today. That announcement prompted Lee to allow Californians who start their applications by today to also have until April 15 to complete it.
Those who don't at least start the process of enrollment by today could face a tax penalty of $95 or one percent of their 2014 taxable income, whichever is greater.
Open enrollment does not apply to low-income Californians who qualify for Medi-Cal, which is open for signups year round.
So far, 1.5 million Californians have enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid plan. That figure includes those who have enrolled through Covered California, those who have signed up through Medi-Cal’s county offices and more than 650,000 former Low Income Health Plan (LIHP) members who were transitioned to Medi-Cal on January 1, 2014, said Toby Douglas, director of the state's Department of Healthcare Services.