Covered California bus stops in Merced to promote open enrollment

“I’m in.”

Those are the two words Covered California officials hope more than 500,000 Californians will be able to say after signing up for health coverage during this year’s second open enrollment period, which starts Saturday.

Covered California launched a 21-city bus tour to promote the kickoff of the second open enrollment period. The bus tour departed from Sacramento on Monday and stopped at the Healthy House Within a MATCH Coalition center in Merced on Tuesday morning.

“Last year was the first year of open enrollment, and here in California we reduced the rate of the uninsured from 22 percent to 11 percent. We cut it in half,” Peter V. Lee, Covered California’s executive director, said Tuesday.

“This is the largest reduction of any state in the nation,” he added.

This year, officials hope that with the help of community partnerships and collaborative efforts, more than 170,000 people in the Central Valley who are eligible for coverage through Covered California will enroll.

The three-month window to sign up for health insurance or renew coverage will run from Saturday to Feb. 15, 2015. During the first enrollment period, about 1.2 million Californians signed up for coverage. Officials aim to increase that number to 1.7 million.

Lee explained that a lot of people who have not yet signed up those who have adapted to a culture of coping. “They figure out a way to kind of make it work. They don’t think health insurance is for them,” Lee said. “We need to reach out and say to them: It’s about a culture of coverage, about getting coverage that will work for you.”

Lee urged those in attendance to spread the word by mouth and through social media. The “I’m in” campaign is a new effort that calls on those who are already insured to encourage friends and family members to join them in getting coverage.

It’s important to remind people that open enrollment is the only time to receive federal subsidies and the one time insurance companies cannot turn consumers away, Lee said.

Improvements made by Covered California for the 2014-15 open enrollment period include: a team of 28,000 people that can enroll Californians, expanding service center hours, increasing the number of bilingual staffers, and adding more than 200 storefront locations open on evenings and weekends to enroll people and answer their questions.

Nenick Vu, a community organizer with the Hmong Health Collaborative, said interacting and having that face-to-face contact with consumers is crucial to making them feel comfortable.

“We are really beginning to move toward bringing a Central Valley presence,” Vu said. “We are making sure that our communities here, despite what languages they speak, despite what obstacles or barriers they might face, they know a face and a person they can connect to.”

Healthy House will host an open enrollment kickoff event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Help in 12 languages will be available.

“We’re just hoping to really get the word out to these diverse populations,” said Candice Adam-Medefind, Healthy House director. “We want to let them know health insurance is now available to all of them.”

Healthy House will be open Monday through Saturday throughout the enrollment period. For more information, call (209) 724-0102.

By: ANA IBARRA, aibarra@mercedsunstar.com