More than 500,000 Californians are still signing up for health insurance

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Open enrollment has ended, but more than 500,000 Californians are still in the midst of signing up for health insurance, the head of the state's insurance marketplace said Thursday. Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee also said enrollment among Latinos and 18-to-34 year olds jumped in the last weeks before the March 31st deadline.

The roughly half million people still working on their applications had started the process before midnight on March 31st; Covered California is giving them until April 15th to finish signing up.

Those last-minute applicants will swell the overall total, which was more than 1.2 million for the Oct. 1-March 31 open enrollment period, said Lee.

"This is well beyond our highest projections," he added. 

Covered California is relying on the "honor system" in accepting applications from people who say they tried to start an online application by March 31st but weren't able to because of website problems, Lee said. Those people can visit a certified insurance agent or enrollment counselor to submit an application by April 15, Lee said.

Covering California series icon 2013Californians who missed the March 31 deadline to start an application will have to wait until the next enrollment period in November to get health insurance, unless they have a "qualifying life event" such as a marriage, divorce, having a baby or losing job-based insurance. 

Insurance companies have expressed concern that because Covered California is not currently requiring documentation to verify people’s claims of a life event, many people might wait to get sick before seeking insurance, and then lie about a life event to get coverage.

Covered California is developing a plan to require documentation, and will roll it out "in the next couple of months," Lee said.

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Enrollment by Latinos and young adults, critical groups that Covered California had struggled to reach, increased in the final days before the deadline, he added.

Latinos' share of all signups jumped to more than 26 percent by the end of open enrollment, compared with 22 percent by the end of February, said Lee. He said Latinos comprised 36 percent of all enrollees in the month of March.

Adults aged 18-34 accounted for more than 28 percent of enrollees for the six-month period, up from 26.5 percent as of the end of February.

Health economists have said the proportion of young adults should be closer to 40 percent to keep overall insurance costs down, but it’s unclear what impact the final shortfall will have on premiums. Other experts have countered that the key is getting healthy people to enroll, regardless of their age.

Lee said more than 85 percent of people who had signed up for private plans are paying their premiums and getting coverage.

In addition to people who bought private plans during the sign-up period, more than 1.9 million people enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state health insurance program for people with low incomes, he added.

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