'Covered CA' Director Visits Concord Call Center During Final Push To Enroll Uninsured

Concord workers praised for helping to enroll 1 million Californians.

With just days left for millions of uninsured Californians to sign up for healthcare under Covered California, the state health insurance marketplace's executive director Peter V. Lee stopped in Concord today as part of a statewide push to get last-minute consumers to enroll.

Residents have until 11:59 p.m. on Monday to start an online application for a healthcare plan through Covered California, the state-run health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

Those who at least begin their online application by that deadline will have until April 15 to complete the application, avoid a penalty and get coverage by May, Covered California officials said.

Covered California confirmed the firm March 31 deadline despite a White House announcement Wednesday that deadlines would be eased for some consumers under the federal marketplace.

"If you haven't applied yet, do it now," said Lee. "We are concerned that high numbers of people will come to our doors at the last minutes and won't be able to get enrolled in time."

The open enrollment period will be extended for those with extenuating circumstances, such as losing their insurance due to loss of a job, an income change that would affect eligibility for financial help, getting married, divorced, having or adopting a baby or moving to an area with different health plan options.

Enrollment for the Medi-Cal, the government insurance program for low-income Californians, is open year-round.

Those who miss the Monday deadline could lose the chance to get guaranteed coverage regardless of their health status and the chance to get subsidized coverage, Lee said today at a stop at the Covered California call center in Concord.

In addition, those who don't sign up face an IRS fine that equals about one percent of their income. The penalties will continue to rise annually for those who continue to opt out of coverage.

To avoid those consequences, Lee said, consumers must undergo the simple process of starting an online application, which he said means filling out about two pages and pressing "save."

He also encouraged Californians to get help filling out the application by calling a Covered California representative or clicking on "Find Help Near Me" on www.coveredca.com to make an appointment with a certified enrollment counselor or insurance agent that will see them through the application process.

 "Many of them are pretty crowded right now, but now you can start your application and come back and finish it next week if you need to," Lee said. Uninsured Californians are also encouraged to go to one of the hundreds of enrollment events happening statewide over the next few days.

Enrollment fairs throughout the Bay Area include a Friday event at the Ambrose Community Center in Bay Point, and Saturday events at Concord's Rainbow Community Center, at Laney College in Oakland and at the Serramonte Mall in Daly City.

Events can be found by clicking on "Events Near Me" on the Covered California website.

Lee credited the hundreds of customer service workers at the call centers in Rancho Cordova, Fresno and Concord for helping enroll more than 1 million Californians under the state-run marketplace.

Workers at the sprawling Concord center at 2500 Bates Ave. were busy in their cubicles on Thursday answering customers' questions about their health insurance options.

One customer service agent, Concord resident Marty Wilson, said he's fielded back-to-back calls since Covered California's open enrollment period began last Oct. 1.

 Since he started working at the center after its opening last July, Wilson said callers mostly ask either about the website or whether they're eligible for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

He said he and almost all of his co-workers have had at least one caller who cried tears of joy after learning they would be insured.

"It's pretty exciting when you hear someone who hasn't had coverage for 10 years because they have preexisting conditions and you have the chance to help them," Wilson said.

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