California has already enrolled about 625,000 Americans in private health plans through Covered California, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, less than four months into the health law’s initial six-month open enrollment season, according to state health officials. That includes over half a million enrollments through New Year’s Eve and another 125,000 estimated signups to date in January.
“We’re encouraged by the outpouring of interest and participation in the state insurance exchange,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee in a statement. “While our objective is to insure all eligible Californians over time, independent estimates for Covered California’s subsidy-eligible enrollment by the March 31 deadline range between 487,000 and 696,000. These impressive numbers for the first half of open enrollment and the continued momentum in January tell us we are on track to meeting, if not beating, those enrollment estimates as we continue to pick up steam.”
In addition to the private marketplaces enrollments, Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, has also seen a flurry of applications since it was grown to cover more people under Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. More than 584,000 of the poorest Californians were deemed eligible for Medi-Cal between October and December, and another 630,000 were transferred from a temporary (and optional) county-level insurance program for low-income residents into Medi-Cal.
Just under 85 percent of Californians who signed up for private marketplace plans through December are eligible for federal insurance subsidies that will help them pay their monthly premiums. Approximately one in four enrollees are relatively young, aged 18 to 34 — largely in line with the federal Obamacare marketplace and insurance companies’ expectations of who would enroll in the health law’s nascent years.
The new state-level data also revealed some areas of concern, particularly the slow pace of signups among Hispanics and Latinos. Nearly a third of Hispanics in California are uninsured and just under 60 percent of the approximately seven million uninsured Californians are Hispanic. But even though an estimated 46 percent of state residents eligible for Obamacare subsidies are thought to be Latino, just 20 percent of Covered California enrollees to date are Hispanic or Latino.
“Latino enrollment is still falling short given how big a share of the uninsured they are in California,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Without reaching Latinos in large numbers, it’s hard to reach the enrollment goals overall. It also means people are going without benefits they are eligible for.”
Robust Latino enrollment in the Affordable Care Act is critical, considering that Hispanics tend to lack access to affordable health care and suffer from far higher rates of manageable chronic illnesses like type-2 diabetes. More than 15 million of the 48 million uninsured Americans live in three states with large Hispanic and Latino populations — California, Florida, and Texas — and the majority of the uninsured in those states are Hispanic. This group also tends to be younger than other racial groups, meaning their enrollment in Obamacare would likely add more stability to its marketplaces.
The White House is well aware of this reality. Last summer, President Obama touted public-private partnerships between the California Endowment and Spanish-language media outlets such as Univision, Telemundo, La Opinion, and Radio Bilingue aimed at informing young Latinos about the health law during a speech in San Jose.
California lawmakers have voiced frustration about the slow pace of enrollment among this group. “We need to increase the number of Latinos signing up,” state Senate health committee chairman Sen. Ed Hernandez (D) told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not necessarily about more marketing. It means better response times on the phone, a Spanish-language website that is up and working, and getting enrollment counselors in those communities.”
State officials say reaching out to a community that is unlikely to have previously dealt with health insurance is a difficult feat, particularly with a shortage of enrollment counselors who speak Spanish.
To date, about 2.2 million Americans have signed up for private plans through Obamacare’s marketplaces.