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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Survey: Progress In Enrolling California Uninsured

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“It would be nice to have coverage,” said Steve Mercill, 59, who most of his life has worked jobs that didn’t offer coverage. He is now a paid caregiver for his father, a retired doctor, in a small town near the Oregon border.

Mercill tried to purchase a plan through Covered California last year but said he couldn’t get the website to work and couldn’t get the help he needed through the call center. He plans to try again in the fall.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey focused on those without coverage last fall, before open enrollment.

Kominski of UCLA said that by focusing only on those who were previously uninsured, the survey doesn’t paint a complete picture: While some people gained coverage, others lost it.

“There is churn in the health care system and this study does not account for that,” he said.

Aggressive Enrollment

Before the nation’s health law took effect, California had the highest number of uninsured in the nation, coming from highly diverse ethnic backgrounds and cultures. But the state embraced Obamacare before most others and was the first to create a state-run insurance exchange.  

Though there were some initial technical problems in the enrollment process, they were fewer and less severe than those in the federal exchange and other states. In addition, the hospitals, community clinics and social services offices were aggressive in enrolling those eligible for Medi-Cal.

“The fact that a quarter of the previously uninsured Californians ended up enrolled in Medi-Cal points to what a key piece Medicaid is in the puzzle in getting more Americans covered,” said Mollyann Brodie, executive director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Public Opinion and Survey Research.

“That was a piece that often got less attention during open enrollment season,” she said.

Most of those who got covered said it was easy to sign up. Leslie Ziegler, 31, said signing up for insurance through the Covered California website only took about an hour. Before Obamacare, Ziegler, a San Francisco high-tech entrepreneur, had been turned down by several insurance companies because she had ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease that requires costly medication and treatment.

Companies can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Ziegler is thankful, saying having access to insurance and health care whenever she needs it is “a wonderful thing.”

Some respondents said, however, that it was difficult to confirm their coverage. Even now, hundreds of thousands of Medi-Cal applicants are waiting for cards confirming their eligibility.

Teresa Martinez sought help at a Los Angeles health clinic to sign up for Medi-Cal, but months later, she is still waiting for her card. Martinez, a Koreatown hair stylist, said she is anxious to see a doctor to treat arthritis and pain in her leg, as well as help her keep her blood sugar in check to fend off diabetes.

Tue, Jul 29 2014

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