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Covered California: Signups picking up as deadline nears

United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta joined Covered California director Peter Lee (right) to encourage Latinos to sign up for health insurance.
Adrian Florido/KPCC
United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta joined Covered California director Peter Lee (right) to encourage Latinos to sign up for health insurance.

About 44,000 Californians signed up for health plans through the state’s insurance marketplace, Covered California, during the first nine days of March, a slightly faster pace of signups than during the second half of February. The new figures released by Covered California on Thursday suggest that after a slowdown during the first two months of the year, the pace of enrollments is  picking up again as the final signup deadline approaches March 31.

As of March 9, 923,000 people had signed up for a health plan since open enrollment began on October 1. Of the 880,000 who had signed up by the end of February, 762,000 were eligible for federal subsidies. Covered California had set a goal of signing up between 500,000 and 700,000 subsidy-eligible customers by the end of open enrollment. (Covered California's figures differ somewhat from data the federal government released earlier this week because of differences in how data is reported, the agency said).

"We think we’re in a strong position as we head into the final two weeks of open enrollment," said Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee. "But we know we have a lot of work to do...We want to make sure Californians do not miss the deadline, because if you do not make the deadline…you’re going to get a penalty."

The penalty for not having insurance in 2014 will be $95 or one percent of annual income, whichever is greater.

A particular focus, Lee said, will be on signing up young people and Latinos, two demographic groups his agency has continually struggled to reach.

As of Feb. 28, only 22 percent of those who had bought health plans were Latino, even though Latinos make up more than half of the state’s uninsured population.  About 27 percent of signups were by people in the coveted 18 to 34 age group - economists say this generally healthy population needs to make up closer to 40 percent of enrollees to keep overall insurance costs down.

Covered California’s focus on trying to sign up Latinos and young adults was on full display at a festive event on Los Angeles’ Olvera Street on Thursday, complete with choral and dance performances.

United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta appealed to Latinos in English and Spanish to ask all their friends and family to sign up, "even people you don't like very much," she joked.

A similar appeal was made to all young adults by Tamika Butler, the California director of a national nonprofit called Young Invincibles, which encourages the 18-to-34 cohort to sign up for health insurance. 

Covered California is planning nearly 650 enrollment events in communities across the state between now and March 31.

In addition to those who have bought private plans, Covered California determined that more than 1.1 million people were eligible for Medi-Cal by the end of February, the agency said. Nearly 970,000 of them have enrolled in the Medi-Cal program, it added.