California Fails To Hit Obamacare Enrollment Goal

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The country’s most populous state isn’t pulling its weight in sign-ups for Obamacare enrollment this year.

California officials said Tuesday the exchange had 1.4 million people sign up for health coverage so far, falling short of its goal of 1.7 million. More may sign up in the next several days, however — like the federal government and most other states, California extended open enrollment past Sunday’s deadline.

Those who started to sign up before last Sunday’s deadline initially had until Feb. 20 to complete enrollment, so long as they go through a certified enrollment counselor or insurance agent, but the exchange pushed the deadline back again on Tuesday to Feb. 22 to match the federal government’s enrollment extension.

Of last year’s 1.2 million enrollees, 944,000 people had their coverage renewed for Obamacare’s second year — many due to California’s autoenrollment policy, which automatically signed up all of last year’s customers that didn’t actively cancel their coverage or qualify for Medicaid.

Covered California director Peter Lee said this year’s lower-than-expected enrollment total is partially due to the exchange’s projections for how many people would sign up for coverage again was too high. Lee explained the disparity by arguing that Californians were getting health coverage at new jobs or through Medicaid, which California expanded under the health care law.

In comparison to last year’s large influx of interested customers, just 474,000 sign-ups were new customers this time around. The exchange was hoping for 500,000 new enrollments, which they’ve failed to meet within the original deadline — but officials hope the one-week extension will help the exchange reach its goal.

In California especially, low interest from Hispanic customers who are eligible to purchase Obamacare coverage may be keeping enrollment numbers down. As of January, while 50 percent of eligible Californians said they were Hispanic, Latinos accounted for just 28 percent of those who actually selected a plan. Obamacare proponents have increasingly tried to target Hispanics during the second open enrollment period after few of those eligible signed up for coverage in 2014, but even in Obamacare-friendly California, officials are still having trouble attracting enrollment.

In addition to the sign-up extension through Feb. 20, California (as well as the federal government) is considering offering a “special enrollment period” to customers who didn’t realize Obamacare will require them to pay a penalty for not purchasing health insurance. The cost of going uninsured in 2015 is $325 per adult or 2 percent of income.

Lee said that the state will decide by early next week whether or not to offer another extension, according to The Hill.

“The main downside that I can imagine is that consumers might think in the future these deadlines don’t matter,” Lee said.

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