Whether it's a chance for a government subsidy or to avoid a tax penalty, Californians were making a last-minute dash to sign up for health coverage ahead of Monday's enrollment deadline under President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law.
Covered California, the state's insurance exchange, reported that more than 1 million people have signed up for individual policies so far, with the final days of open enrollment bringing a surge of interest.
Covered California spokesman Dana Howard said the exchange's website was working normally, unlike the federal government's website, which had a technical problem Monday that prevented new users from creating accounts. Californians who start the process by midnight will have until April 15 to complete their applications.
Although applicants can sign up online at www.coveredca.com or by phone, many were stopping into registration sites hosted by unions and community groups to get face-to-face help.
Michael Carradine, a 20-year-old student studying criminal justice at Sacramento State University, arrived at a registration site hosted by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers in Sacramento at 7:30 a.m. with his mother, Natividad Martin. SEIU-UHC, which represents home health care workers, also was hosting an enrollment marathon in Los Angeles.
Carradine said it was important to get a health insurance plan, but admits it was his mother who got him out of bed and encouraged him to get signed up.
``She was like, `We don't want to be fined,''' said Carradine, who enrolled in an Anthem Blue Cross plan with a monthly premium of $106 after subsidies. ``I guess she can feel safer about me driving now.''
Mark Tammes, 57, a violinist with the Sacramento Philharmonic, said he stopped in early Monday after reading about the event in the newspaper. Tammes, who said he doesn't have a computer and had trouble when his girlfriend tried to help him register online, said it was much easier, and faster, to get enrolled in person.
``I really prefer to talk to someone with a pulse,'' Tammes said.
The Sacramento resident selected a Blue Shield plan that will cost him $55 a month after subsidies. He said he is pleased that his out-of-pocket cost for a trip to the doctor's office and generic prescriptions will cost just $3.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, most people will be required to have insurance or face a tax penalty, which starts as little as $95 per year but builds over time. The law is mainly geared to the uninsured and to people who buy coverage directly from insurance companies. Most Americans in employer plans are not expected to see major changes.
Since Oct. 1, uninsured middle-class Californians have been able to sign up for subsidized private health plans through the state's newly established insurance exchange. Low-income uninsured people are being steered to safety net programs such as Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal in California.
More than 1.1 million Californians who visited the Covered California website were determined to be likely eligible for Medi-Cal, according to the latest official enrollment numbers, released in mid-March.
Armando Olguin, 42, found out he qualified for Medi-Cal, which will provide him with health coverage for the first time in 14 years.
``It's important because we need to go to the doctor and look after our health so we can work and sustain our families,'' said Olguin, who works as a janitor.