For California’s Uninsured, a Rush to the Finish
At the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, applicants sitting in chairs outside a Macy’s department store were waiting up to four hours to meet with enrollment counselors. A nonstop stream of people came up to an information kiosk with questions: Is today the last day? How much is the penalty? What kind of coverage do I need? How much do I have to pay?
Mario Rivera, 23, who works at a warehouse, said he put off applying until the last minute because he didn’t think he could afford the coverage. Rivera, who is uninsured, recently went to the emergency room because of kidney stones and had to pay $400 in medical bills.
An enrollment counselor told Rivera he would be eligible for Medi-Cal but that he couldn’t get onto the website to sign him up because it was overtaxed. Rivera said the counselor promised to get the application going later and call him.
Stephanie Sandoval, 24, sat down at a small desk across from Covered California enrollment counselor Erick Larsen, who said he had enrolled hundreds of people over the past several months. Sandoval handed him her tax return and said she worked in a restaurant.
Larsen explained that she would qualify for federal subsidies through Covered California, and that her young son would be eligible for Medi-Cal. “Obama and the government are really gonna help you,” he said.
Larsen also couldn’t sign on to the website so he handed her a card and told her to return between April 2 and April 14. “The good news is that you made the deadline,” he said. “The bad news is that you’re gonna need to come back to finish.”
Larsen said for much of the enrollment period, he has worked seven days a week, often without taking lunch. “The joy of watching people get insurance for the first time in their lives is exhilarating,” he said.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Tue, Apr 1 2014