Covered California is extending its deadline to enroll for health insurance coverage that begins January 1st. The new deadline is midnight on Saturday, December 17th.
"Many of our insurance agents are saying their stores are full—they’re booked," said Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director.
"We’ve had people calling in to our call center and we’ve answered tens of thousands of people, but about 20 percent of them couldn’t get through," he said. "Our responsibility is to keep the doors open as long as we can so that people have coverage January 1."
This is the third time the state’s health insurance exchange has had to extend its deadline because of last-minute sign-ups since it went into business in the fall of 2013.
Lee attributed the late surge to procrastination, rather than any generalized fear that the incoming Trump administration will repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"I’ve been in the Latino community where they say, 'Oh, yeah, we Latinos always wait until the last minute,'" he said. "But then I go to the Vietnamese community and they say, 'Oh we Vietnamese always wait until the last minute.' Californians wait until the last minute."
"And the reality is, there’s only so many people you can push through a funnel on the last day," Lee said.
Open enrollment runs through Jan. 31; after Saturday, those signing up by Jan. 15 will have their coverage begin Feb. 1. People enrolling between Jan. 16-31 won't have coverage until March 1.
People looking for private insurance can go to the Covered California website, which helps customers determine if they're eligible for federal subsidies, shop for a plan, and enroll. For those who want to sign up in person, the site directs them to insurance brokers or certified enrollment counselors near where they live.
So far, 1.2 million Covered California customers have renewed their plans for 2017, and an additional 153,000 new customers have signed up since open enrollment began on Nov. 1. This is a slight increase over the 144,000 new enrollees at this time last year.
California was the first state to create a health benefit exchange after the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Researchers say the health law has achieved its goal of expanding coverage.
In 2015, the overall rate of uninsured Californians under age 65 reached a historic low of 9.5 percent, according to new California Health Interview Survey data released Wednesday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
It was the first time the rate had dropped to less than 10 percent since UCLA researchers started collecting data in 2000. Additionally, more low-income African-American, Asian-American, and Latinos gained coverage.
"The evidence shows that the Affordable Care Act has opened the doors to groups who have been historically shut out from health insurance coverage," Health Interview Survey principal investigator Ninez Ponce said in a statement.
Yet the future of President Obama’s signature health law is unclear. President-elect Trump and the congressional Republican leadership have pledged to dismantle it.
Get more information at Covered California's website.