Covered California enrollments are on the rise, but challenges remain

Supervisor Chan presented an award of gratitude to Peter Lee at a ceremony Wednesday.

Supervisor Chan presented an award of gratitude to Peter Lee at a ceremony Wednesday.

Before the debut of the Covered California healthcare marketplace last year, Alameda County had about 150,000 uninsured adults. Excluding those deemed ineligible due to immigration status, there were still 110,000 adults who were qualified but uncovered. Today 60,000 of them – or nearly 55 percent – are newly insured, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said.

Statewide enrollments have soared too, with the uninsured rate cut in half to 11 percent from 22 percent, the Commonwealth Fund and the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in separate studies. Covered California is the state’s healthcare marketplace seeking to boost coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Applauding these milestones while bracing for challenges ahead, Oakland’s Asian and Latino communities gathered at the new Asian Health Services’ clinic in Oakland’s Chinatown on Wednesday, where Chan presented an award honoring Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California.

“We’ve made the biggest difference of any state in the nation, going from 22 percent to 11 percent uninsured. That is a huge accomplishment,” Chan said.

Lee said his goal for Covered California in the coming year is to boost enrollment to 1.7 million people from the current 1.3 million by the end of the next open enrollment period, which runs from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.

Local community health providers La Clinica de La Raza and Asian Health Services were also honored at the ceremony as agencies achieving the 12th and 19th highest enrollment levels in Covered California.

“In our community we have a lot of families with mixed immigration status,” said Jane Garcia, the chief executive officer of La Clinica, a primary health care provider that caters to the linguistic and cultural needs of its patient population. “Children often qualify for Medi-Cal, but people are afraid that applying might affect their immigration status,” she said. “Because we’ve been in the community for 45 years, they trusted us.”

Recently, however, many immigrant families have run into trouble renewing their health insurance for the coming year. In early September, 98,000 households in California were notified that they needed to provide documentation to prove that they’re legal residents of the state. Families failing to file necessary documents could lose coverage this month.

While acknowledging that Alameda County still faces complications in getting people insured, Supervisor Chan said her office is helping residents adapt to the new system.

“Our staff gets calls every day, and we take it very seriously,” she said. “There are still a lot of things to be fixed, but that isn’t surprising. I think with time people will learn how to use the system.”

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