Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco Tuesday morning. (Angela Hart/KQED)
Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco Tuesday morning. (Angela Hart/KQED)

California’s health heavy-hitters formally opened the state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, Tuesday morning from its call center in Rancho Cordova. The federal government partial shutdown does not affect these health care exchanges nationwide.

“Covered California is officially open for business,” said Covered California executive director Peter Lee. “We stand with thousands of Californians across the state as we kick off our effort to help educate and enroll millions of currently uninsured Californians.”

At 8:46 a.m., Covered California tweeted that one person is now formally on board:

In theory, people who want to enroll can visit the Covered California website and click on the yellow box “Start Here.” But in practice, the online sign-up is not loading (at least not for me, right now). People can also call to get information and enroll. The Covered California number is 1-800-300-1506

At a late morning press event in San Francisco, Lee explained why some people might be experiencing delays: Covered California is getting 10,000 hits every second, he said. (UPDATE 6pm: Covered California released corrected numbers. Lee misspoke at the event. Peak web traffic Tuesday was 16,000 hits per minute.)

Here’s more background from AP:

Under the federal law, consumers who have previously been rejected for private insurance because of a pre-existing condition will be able to enroll, and those who cannot afford to buy their own insurance can receive government-subsidized premiums.

“I think it’s hard to overstate how big a change this is: People will no longer pay based on how sick they are, but on what they can afford based on a percentage of income. That’s a transformational change in the way health care works,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, which has advocated for greater health care coverage for the poor.

The Affordable Care Act will dramatically change the way many Americans will get health insurance and marks the most extensive change to the nation’s health care system since Medicare and Medicaid became law in 1965.

California is being seen as a laboratory for the health care overhaul, and call center workers have been training for months to answer questions. The three call centers — in Concord, Fresno and the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova — already have been flooded with calls.

Latinos, who make up nearly half of the 5.3 million uninsured Californians who are eligible to apply, have been expressing particular interest, said Santiago Lucero, a spokesman for Covered California. Lawfully present immigrants are eligible for the same benefits as citizens, but undocumented immigrants are not. They may not even buy insurance at Covered California with their own money.

Despite the significance of Tuesday’s opening, officials do not expect a wave of applications immediately because comparing the available plans and filling out the application will be time-consuming.

“There are four different levels of health plans, and then within each level there are 12 different companies,” to choose from, Lucero said. “They have to pick which would best fit their financial and health needs. … It may take some time before they make a decision.”

Beginning in 2014, virtually all Americans will be required to have health insurance or pay an annual penalty to the government. The penalty for an individual starts at $95 in 2014 but rises to a minimum of $695 by 2016.

Californians who have health coverage through an employer will be largely unaffected by Tuesday’s opening of the exchange, which is primarily for the poor, low-income earners, and individuals and families who already buy their own health insurance.

Actual coverage through insurance purchased on the exchanges will start Jan. 1.

[Related: Your Questions Answered Obamacare Explained — A Guide for Californians]

Covered California, State’s Obamacare Marketplace, Now Open; Has First Enrollee 2 October,2013Lisa Aliferis

  • madca

    This is exciting! As a self-employed individual it’s great to be able to finally get affordable QUALITY care!

    • Tripp Sherrod

      It is in your absolute best interest to seek a Certified Covered California Agent to help you enroll or to double check your application. There is a reason commissions are built into the premiums even if you do not speak with a Certified Covered California Agent, and that is because Covered California and Insurance Companies know the importance of having an expert make sure everything is done correctly. Know that their is a BIG difference between newly hired state “assistors and navigators” and a “Certified Covered California Agent”. CCCA’s do not work in state call centers and we are required to pass back ground checks and rigorous health insurance testing before becoming licensed agents.

      Take advantage of something you are already paying for if you are purchasing a health insurance plan through Covered California. Call or email me today.

      Tripp Sherrod
      Certified Covered California Agent
      License #0I15060

  • LoveTheLeast8

    I couldn’t sign up all day before of website issues. 🙁

  • noloinfovoter

    Barry Care “affordable”, not once you look into the out-of-pocket expenses!

    • RealityWorks

      As a small employer who provides full coverage for 5 employees, Aetna increased our premiums by a whopping 76% for 2014 and raised deductibles and co-pays into the bargain. We were given no choices or explanation why. Through “Barry” care as you so ignorantly call it, I’ll be able to give my employees better coverage at a far lower cost. Try facts next time.

  • bojestss

    46 minutes to get the first enrollee at the call center. I cancelled all my appointments with clients anxious to sign up. The system needs ‘More power Scottie”. I can do the paper application faster than the online app boots up.

  • Michael Lujan

    Be patient. This was a very big day with record traffic which will taper offer in a few days. You have six months to get enrolled (or until Dec 15 if you want coverage effective Jan 2014. You can also enroll with a certified and licensed insurance agent at no additional cost. Congrats to all who can now get covered!

  • emilys

    please help me understand why as an individual plan holder my premiums are going up 50% and I am getting less coverage than with my soon to be dropped blue shield plan.

  • some guy

    Which Plan did they enroll in? Will there be transparency into which plans people are selecting?


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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