Covered CA’s coverage extends across Central Valley

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Agency’s reach broadens in Tulare, Fresno County along with other Central Valley regions as Covered CA’s enrollment rates jump to record numbers for 2024

CALIFORNIA – Californians continue to flock to Covered California (Covered CA) for health insurance in record numbers and Central Valley residents are no exception. And according to one insurance agent, due to a system glitch, the numbers could actually be even higher than they currently seem.

Covered CA groups counties into regions. As of Jan. 20, plan selections in region 11, which includes Fresno, Kings, and Madera counties, were up 25% compared to 2023.

Region 10 includes Tulare, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Plan selections were up 30% in region 10 compared to 2023. Jagdip Dhillon of Covered CA supplied the numbers.

Statewide, there were over 306,000 new enrollees; over 1.4 million subscribers renewed their coverage. Since 2014, approximately 1.8 million people have obtained health insurance through Covered CA.

“It was just exciting and heartwarming because that means more people are getting covered,” Jessica Altman, executive director of Covered CA, told CBS News Sacramento.

The new and renewed enrollment numbers set a record, despite the fact rates are increasing nearly 10% in 2024. Altman said additional federal subsidies together with California’s cost-sharing revenue program explains why more people continue to sign up despite the increase in cost.

Altman told CBS News in 2023, roughly 1.3 million Californians who were eligible for coverage through Medi-Cal or subsidized Covered CA plans remain uninsured.

“While we look at these numbers and say we’ve made a dent, we definitely still have work to do,” said Altman.

TRANSFERRED TO COVERED CA

Diana Palmer is a certified Covered CA agent in Chowchilla. Palmer said during COVID, Medi-Cal suspended eligibility determinations. Since restarting the process, Palmer said many individuals who were enrolled in Medi-Cal have been re-determined; that is, the program determined their income level makes them ineligible for Medi-Cal benefits.

“These people were transferred to Covered California,” she said. She added she did not know how many Medi-Cal enrollees were re-determined but believed the number was significant.

Another certified Covered CA agent in the Central Valley, who asked not to be identified, said he has between 1,500 and 2,000 clients enrolled in the program. He agreed that there has been an increase this year in the number of people covered.

“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “I can see those record enrollments. Covered California has very good programs; some of the best in the country.”

He also intimated that enrollment numbers could have been higher had not Medi-Cal and BlueShield experienced “system issues.”

The agent also said leading up to the Oct. 15 Medi-Cal renewal period, he began receiving calls from clients, like he does every renewal period. But last year, when he attempted to update his clients’ income information – like he does every renewal period – the Medi-Cal system did not accept the new information.

“Their income information was clearly beyond Medi-Cal income guidelines,” said the agent. “But come Jan. 1, they get put on Medi-Cal.”

He said these are individuals who wanted to be enrolled in Covered CA, but because of the problem with the system, they were re-enrolled in Medi-Cal.

“The system will automatically put them back on Medi-Cal until they prove they don’t qualify,” he said.

The agent added that a problem with BlueShield’s payment system last November resulted in many Covered CA participants not being able to renew coverage.

“A lot of payments were lost,” he said. “Or they just fell off automatic payments.” The agent said this affected more participants in Fresno County than in Tulare County because Tulare County, as a whole, has a lower economic population. As such, more Tulare County residents are enrolled in Medi-Cal.

The agent said that while the computer problem did impact new Covered CA clients, it primarily affected clients attempting to renew coverage.

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