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California and New York Report Intense Interest in Health Law Coverage

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

December 17, 2014 -- State-run marketplaces such as California and New York's reported a higher volume of applications for health law insurance in the past few days, even though they extended deadlines for coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1.

In California, more than 592,000 people who applied for coverage were found eligible for Medicaid or private insurance for individuals, said Yolanda Richardson, chief deputy for the Covered California state marketplace. She spoke on a call for reporters with exchange directors from New York, Kentucky, and Washington state.

Covered California officials said that since open enrollment began on Nov. 15, 157,361 people were determined eligible for marketplace coverage. Another 144,178 people went on to choose a plan for private marketplace coverage.

Last year, only about 109,000 people picked a plan in the first two months of the open enrollment period, Richardson noted on the call, which was organized by the advocacy group Families USA.

The numbers in California don't include people who renewed coverage.

Interest in Medicaid, known in the state as Medi-Cal, also is strong. Officials said 216,423 people were enrolled and another 74,965 appear to be likely eligible for Medi-Cal but haven't gotten their final decisions yet.

So far this year, Medi-Cal enrolled more than 2.2 million consumers. Medicaid enrollment takes place year-round, unlike the health law marketplace, which has an open enrollment period ending Feb. 15.

The state of California has a backlog of 44,173 people who are waiting for a Medi-Cal decision, down from 99,900 people in late November. But Medi-Cal officials say the number of people in that group who are actually eligible for coverage is less than 2,000 people. The state was scheduled to hold a court hearing on last week on a lawsuit related to the backlog.

People who want their marketplace plan benefits to kick in on Jan. 1 have until Dec. 21 to pick a plan, said Richardson. The federal marketplace had a Dec. 15 deadline for such coverage to take effect.

"The interest here in California continues to be strong," she said.

New Yorkers have until Dec. 20 to choose which marketplace plan they want.

New York Health Benefit Exchange officials say that as of last week, 194,333 New Yorkers have gotten coverage through Medicaid, children's health coverage or a marketplace plan during this year's sign-up period.

More than 60 percent of the newly enrolled consumers were Medicaid beneficiaries, Exchange Executive Director Donna Frescatore told reporters.

An agency spokesman said that 123,644 New Yorkers have enrolled in Medicaid through Dec. 16. Another 52,543 have signed up for a marketplace plan, and 18,146 enrolled in Child Health Plus, which is coverage primarily for children.

Like California, the New York numbers do not include people who were already enrolled through the marketplace in 2014 and are now renewing their coverage for next year. In the first open enrollment period, about 960,000 New Yorkers signed up for coverage.

Ten of the 14 state marketplaces have later deadlines for coverage taking effect Jan. 1 than the federal marketplace that 37 states rely on. Washington state exchange director Richard K. Onizuka said residents have until Dec. 23 to enroll for benefits that start Jan. 1. The Kentucky deadline for Jan. 1 benefits was Monday.

Marketplace directors said it's unclear why some people who were eligible last year didn't sign up until this year or what may be motivating them this time. Richardson said that California will do surveys to try to answer those questions.

Frescatore also said New York will do surveys on the demographics of enrollees and may seek information about consumers' reasons for seeking coverage. She added that outreach is helping raise awareness in New York. About 10,000 in-person assisters "really hit the ground running" in trying to sign people up for coverage in this open enrollment period.

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