Exchange Officials Address 'Glitchy' Start

by David Gorn

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Covered California's board yesterday met for the first time and reviewed the Oct. 1 launch of the exchange. Across the country and in California many people were frustrated by long waits and some confusion with the rollout of the first six-month-long enrollment period.

Given the size of the undertaking, some difficulty with the launch was to be expected, said board member Robert Ross.

"It's been a glitchy beginning," Ross said at yesterday's board meeting. "But I don't know how anything this size wouldn't be like that."

Overall, given the high volume of interest in the exchange and the huge amount of information exchange workers were able to deliver, the launch did well, said Covered California executive director Peter Lee.

"A lot of people look at the mistakes, and see fodder for headlines for failure," Lee said. "For us, our mission is to improve every single day."

People need to take a little bit longer view, he said.

"We are three weeks into the first month of a six-month opening enrollment period for a system that sets up the next 100 years of health care in California. We are not perfect. But we are doing a pretty darned good job," Lee said.

Yesterday's meeting included updates on many aspects of the enrollment and education effort at the exchange:

  • Paper applications in languages other than English are pending federal approval, Lee said. "We are waiting for federal approval to have written paper applications available." In the meantime, he said, exchange workers are following up with people requesting foreign-language applications -- with phone calls from people in their native language, or an attempt to connect people to local community groups where that person's native language is spoken. "Lots of people say they want an application, so at this point, rather than just promising an application, maybe they want to speak to someone in their own language," Lee said.  
  • The SHOP exchange has launched, but small business owners and employees will need to wait until mid-November to enroll, Lee said. Six health plans are offering small-business coverage and more than 18,000 registered agents in California are ready to assist with enrollment, exchange officials said. That can't happen soon enough, according to John Arensmeyer, CEO of the Small Business Majority. "There's tremendous pent-up demand among small business owners to sign up with the SHOP exchange," Arensmeyer said. He did have one caveat about the enrollment effort for small businesses, however: "If we don't get that up by mid-November, it could be a big problem," Arensmeyer said.
  • Outreach and advertising efforts are intensifying, and should hit full stride in November, according to Colleen Stevens, marketing coordinator for the exchange. "TV, radio, billboards, phone, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter -- we are across the gamut, and across the languages," Stevens said. Many types of advertising, including television spots and billboards, will be presented in Spanish, Mandarin and other languages, she said. "In a state like California, we have no limit on priority populations, so we're trying to meet people in their native tongue," she said.

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