Covered California last-minute rush prompts extension


Midnight marked the enrollment deadline under President Barack Obama's health reform law. Covered California, the state's insurance exchange, reported that more than 1.2 million people have signed up for individual policies and that hundreds of thousands of accounts had been opened just in the last week.

But as it became apparent that some consumers could not even begin their application process, Covered California announced a new policy that effectively extends the sign-up deadline until April 15.

Covered California said people who were unable to get enrolled because of technical difficulties can contact service representatives or certified insurance agents and tell them they attempted but failed to get started on Monday. Those consumers, along with those who were able to start the process, will have until 11:59 p.m. April 15 to finish enrolling.

Many last-minute customers chose to seek help at enrollment events hosted by unions and community groups to get face-to-face help. More than 1,000 people showed up to a free event at the office of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West in Commerce.

The event ran from 5 a.m. to midnight. Some people waited as long as four hours just to get inside the building. But with the midnight deadline looming and hundreds still waiting to sign up for healthcare coverage, operators of the 19-hour "Enroll-a-thon" realized they were not going to be able to see everyone. Certificates were handed out to those in line before they were sent home, offering proof that they tried to sign up on Monday.

"The big adjustment was that instead of finishing the enrollment process, we're just getting them started and that's important because it allows them to have that extension through April 15 to file," said Sean Wherley with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers.

The union has helped enroll more than 7,500 residents already at similar events across the state this year.

"They don't make the application process that user friendly, and we find a lot of people who actually start their application online, they get stuck, and then they walk into our offices needing some help," said Elliot Petty of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers. "We're here to help, and we're here to make sure that they get the healthcare that they need."

Meantime, government officials told the Associated Press that the president's health care overhaul was on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance on deadline day, beating expectations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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