Coronavirus pandemic: Number of Covered California participants soars as newly unemployed seek health insurance

The number of Covered California participants has spiked as newly unemployed workers seek health insurance.
The number of Covered California participants has soared in recent weeks as tens of thousands of newly unemployed workers seek health insurance.

Dwight Armentrout had worked in telecommunications for 48 years until his job disappeared a few weeks ago -- and along with it, the employer-based health plan he and his partner relied on.

"The company I had been working for," Armentrout said, "they had been downsizing and I kind of had an inkling that this was going to happen."

He lost his job as fears over the coronavirus started to grip Southern California. Armentrout's age, combined with diabetes and hypertension, compounded his concern.

"I've never been without insurance," he said.

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Armentrout is one of the nearly 60,000 Californians who signed up for a Covered California health plan between March 20. and April 10.

"Compared to last year during the same three-week period, this is three times the number of people who signed up. So, this isn't just a little tiny blip. This is a surge of people saying they need coverage," said Covered California's executive director, Peter V. Lee.

He said the enrollment window has been extended through June 30 to help the newly unemployed and newly uninsured.

"Millions of people are going to be getting unemployment checks from the Employment Development Department " Lee said, "Every one of those checks come with a flyer from Covered California saying, you don't need to do without insurance."

Armentrout was able to buy an affordable Blue Shield plan thanks to new state subsidies.

Lee said 85% of people on Covered California get financial help.

"That means we have tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles County that weren't eligible for financial aid last year and are today," Lee said.

Armentrout did his entire enrollment online.

"The process was quite easy," he said.

For applicants who may have questions, insurance agents are manning phones lines to help.

"They're answering phones from places like living rooms, kitchen tables," Lee said, "We've moved, everyone to telework. And it's a great reminder to me, that we are all in this together."

Studies show the average cost of hospitalization for COVID-19 could be around $72,000. Enrollment runs until June 30, but may be adjusted according to the need.
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