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California's Obamacare Success Marred By Canceled Insurance Policies, According To Critics

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The Healthcare.gov website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. The race to construct an online insurance exchange by Oct. 1 spurred the Obama administration to use an expedited bidding system that limited its choice of a builder to just four companies, including CGI Group Inc. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images | Bloomberg via Getty Images

A majority of those who have applied for health care through Covered California are English speakers, Los Angeles County residents and between ages 55 to 64, who likely qualify for Medi-Cal, according to figures released Thursday.

More than 360,000 people completed applications through Covered California since the state health care exchange opened for business on Oct. 1. Those include residents who qualified for government subsidies. But despite the progress of steady enrollment extolled from the board room of Covered California, state Republicans were quick to say that more people were seeing policies canceled than there were applying for health insurance.

"This is a clear indicator that our enrollment system is working, demand for health care coverage is strong, and Californians are embracing the benefits offered by the Affordable Care Act," Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said.

Lee made the statement the same day the Covered California board decided to uphold the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline for health insurance companies to discontinue plans that don't meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act, even though President Barack Obama in a speech last week said he would allow the deadline to be extended. The board's decision means at least 1 million Californians will see their polices canceled by year's end, some noted.

But board members said extending the deadline would only create confusion about accessing health care coverage through Covered California. Instead, they offered several strategies to encourage higher enrollment rates, such as extending the deadlines to apply, establishing a hotline at 855-857-0445 and targeting the uninsured directly.

"These new strategies will provide consumers a better enrollment experience, more flexibility in the selection of a plan and, most importantly, increased knowledge with which to make the best health coverage choice possible," Lee said.

The findings show that of the 360,464 applications completed since Oct. 1, about 39 percent or 135,000 will likely result in Medi-Cal coverage for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

The so-called "young invincibles," also applied for policies in October. Of the 30,830 state residents who enrolled during October, 22.5 percent, or about 6,900, were between 18 and 34 years old. Without the participation of the young, affordable health care for the old and poor loses its balance, officials have said, because the young are healthier, use medical services less and pay more into the system.

Lee called those figures encouraging but acknowledged that some groups could benefit more from face to face contact.

Among the report's other findings for October:

--Among those who completed applications, 26 percent came from Los Angeles County, followed by San Diego County, Orange County and San Bernardino/Riverside counties.

--At least 83 percent of those who completed applications spoke English, while nearly 5 percent spoke Spanish, and 4 percent spoke an Asian or Pacific Islander language.

--Anthem Blue Cross was chosen by 28 percent of those who completed applications, while Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield attracted roughly 25 percent each of those who chose plans.

But those demographics were overshadowed by Covered California's decision to allow health policies to expire.

"Covered California made the best decision for consumers by supporting the success of our new health insurance marketplace," said Patrick Johnston, president and CEO of the California Association of Health Plans in a statement. "Today's decision comes with a renewed effort to ease the transition process for consumers in the form of a five-step action plan focusing on extending deadlines and increasing enrollment assistance."

But insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who only a few weeks ago worked to help those with some plans extend their policies for 90 days, was less enthusiastic.

"Over a million Californians have received cancellation notices from their health insurer," Jones said. "On behalf of these policyholders I am disappointed in Covered California's action, which denies individuals and families the opportunity to keep their existing health insurance as President Obama promised."

Meanwhile, California's Assembly Republicans announced plans on Thursday to introduce legislation to allow consumers to keep their coverage for an additional year.

"Americans were told time and time again -- If you like your plan, you can keep it.' Our legislation would simply uphold that promise," said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare in a statement. "It's unacceptable that more Americans are losing their health care than are signing up for it through the exchanges. Democrats promised cheaper coverage for all Americans but that's not what's happening." ___

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