Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.
Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee testified before Congress Thursday morning. He used his 5-minutes to give a quick recap of what’s gone right on the nation’s biggest state-based exchange.

First, Lee released numbers of where Covered California stands as of Monday, the day open enrollment formally ended (although those who could not finish due to technical problems have until April 15 to finish):

  • 1.2 million people enrolled in Covered California
  • 1.9 million newly-enrolled in Medi-Cal
  • 800,000 people are likely eligible for Medi-Cal but waiting to be confirmed

“This is close to four million Californians,” Lee told the House Committee on Oversight Government Reform. “As of three days ago, California had brought coverage to more than 50 percent of those subsidy-eligible in the exchange.”

In 2013, 7 million people in California were uninsured. But because there was no question on the application as to insurance status, it is unclear how many people who are enrolled in insurance were previously.

California was the first state to pass legislation to create an exchange — that was in 2010 just a few months after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. In that time, Covered California has gone from 10 employees to over 1,000. “We are a very, very fast start-up that is working to change history,” Lee said.

Lee pointed to three things that he says “make an exchange work” —  affordable health plans, effecting marketing and effective enrollment. He said he is optimistic that “rates will stay competitive and affordable” going forward. As for the overall marketing campaign, Lee said it was important to advertise and reach out across a demographic mix and across languages. More than 200 groups “anchored in local communities” were also critical to outreach, Lee said.

Despite the strong enrollment, Lee stressed that it has not all been perfect. “It’s been rocks. It’s been bumpy, and it will continue to be rocky and bumpy,” Lee said.

In a press call later Thursday morning with reporters, Lee broke out a few more numbers from the month of March and April 1

  • 416,000 Californians completed applications and picked a plan during March.
  • 500,000 people opened accounts in the last week of March but did not pick a plan
  • 20,000 people finished their application on Tuesday, April 1

Of the 500,000 people who opened plans in the last week of March, Lee said he does not expect all of them will enroll in a plan by the April 15 deadline. About half, he estimates, will be determined eligible for Medi-Cal. Others may discover they’re not eligible for a subsidy and enroll off the exchange, with a broker or directly to a health plan.

Covered California has been criticized for its outreach and lower enrollment of Latinos, but March saw “huge growth” with this group, Lee said. The number of enrollees who self-identified as Latino was up 65 percent. More than one in three applicants in March was Latino, Lee said, bringing the total up from 22 percent of all enrollees to 26 percent. The UC Berkeley Labor Center had estimated a base enrollment of 290,000 Latinos in Covered California. Enrollment as of March 31 is 252,000. Lee believes the number will go above the base projection but the April 15 final deadline.

Young adults ages 18-34 have also enrolled in lower numbers than their share of people eligible for subsidies. But their share also increased in March, from 26 percent to 28 percent of all enrollees.

Covered California Now Above 1.2 Million Enrollees — with More Coming 4 April,2014Lisa Aliferis


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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