Covered California faces different problems than fed system
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - President Barack Obama is frustrated with problems rolling out the insurance exchange system under the Affordable Care Act, but in California a slightly different set of "glitches" is reported in the health exchange. On Monday, the president vowed to fix the federal website. In Kern County, local groups say they're also dealing with certain "bumps."
"There are some glitches in the area of in-person assistance," Edgar Aguilar told Eyewitness News. He's the program manager for the Community Health Initiative of Kern County. It's one of the organizations signed up to help people enroll in the state's program for so-called Obamacare, Covered California.
Over at Clinica Sierra Vista, they're also seeing delays with getting counselors completely through the system, so they can help people understand and enroll for health insurance under the new program.
"It's a little bumpy," Clinica CEO Steve Schilling commented on Monday, saying he's disappointed in delays getting their "assistors" completely through the state system. "I'm confident that by the end of this week the last password that we need to allow our people to get through it and assist clients will happen," he said.
California is one of the states that set up its own system, including its own website. With the federal system, HealthCare.gov, users report trouble logging on and repeated failures. "In California, here in Kern County, the only website people are allowed to use is the Covered California website," Schilling stressed.
Aguilar said people can get on that system. "The website is working," he said. "I just checked this morning, actually, to make sure of it. I was able to log on, and create a user name."
But Schilling said while someone could get information and sign up by themselves on the Covered California website, many may not want to. He leafed through more than 20 pages a staffer had printed out, showing how long the sign-up process it. He thinks a lot of people will want help from counselors, once they are finally available.
People could also get help from insurance agents, but one local company says they're also facing a "glitch" in getting all the way through the system.
"We're in the middle of the certification process right now," Paul Sheldon said on Monday. "And we anticipate we'll have completed that within the next couple weeks." He also thinks a lot of people will want help, he's hearing plenty of confusion from people who call his agency.
And, Sheldon questions how well the new health insurance program will work. First, he urges people to make sure the doctor they want is part of the plans offered by Covered California. "The provider list is being greatly reduced by virtually all insurance companies," he said. Sheldon also says people should check how brand name medications would be covered under a plan.
The insurance agent also worries about enough healthy people signing up for plans under Obamacare. There will be a penalty for those who don't have health insurance, but Sheldon says that starts at $95 a year or 1 percent of the modified adjusted gross income. "Many people will say, why not just wait until something bad happens to me, and I'll just go to the ER," he said.
Eyewitness News contacted a spokeswoman for Covered California, and she says more than 94,500 applications have been started as of Oct. 12. Athena Fleming said those applications have been sent to the plan of choice for those Californians. Actual enrollment starts on Jan. 1.
Those who want to sign up for insurance under Covered California can also phone a "call center," where state workers have been trained to assist people in understanding the plans and signing up. That toll free number is (800) 300-1506. And the website is www.coveredca.com.
Fleming said the state may release more statistics on enrollment later this week. She also said an enrollment event is planned at California State University Bakersfield next week.
Meanwhile, local groups are waiting to get their counselors through the final hoops so they can help people enroll. The organizations report a lot of interest from the public.
At Community Health Initiative, Edgar Aguilar says his organization hopes their counselor certification process can be completed soon. Till then, they're taking phone numbers from people who want help getting enrolled in Covered California, counselors will call them back as soon as possible.
And, he says they can still make progress. "A lot of people are calling us, and that gives us the opportunity to educate them," he said. Though the delay in getting the counselors ready is frustrating, Aguilar believes California is leading the charge on rolling out the new health care program.
"The glitches the federal government is experiencing don't affect us," Aguilar said. "These glitches (with Covered California), I see them just as that -- technical difficulties, hiccups along the way."