Obamacare Exchange Launches Amidst Complaints From Supervisors

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Orange County’s community health leaders marked the opening day Tuesday of the health purchasing exchange, a newly created marketplace to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, with little fanfare, though high-profile festivities took place nationally and statewide, including in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Day one interest was high across the state. Within an 90 minutes after phone lines opened at Covered California, the state entity administering the exchange, more than 6,000 people called with inquiries. The sign-up area of Covered California’s website received 800,000 distinct page hits per hour, according to Sarah Sol, information officer with Covered California.

In turn, Orange County supervisors, who have been vocal in their opposition to Obamacare and refused significant health-care related grant funds from the federal government, voiced frustration over the shortage of outreach grants for Orange County.

Supervisor John Moorlach, who has led the board’s charge against Obamacare, termed the limited outreach grant funds slated for Orange County as “another example where somehow we are third cousins” when it comes to funding allocations from Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who has been the most active board member on county health care outreach and services for the underserved, defended county Health Care Agency staff efforts to her colleagues, noting their tough position given the board’s position.

“Everybody knows these five supervisors don’t support Obamacare,” Nguyen said. “But it is the law of the land at this time.”

Covered OC, a coalition of about 50 community groups working to expand coverage to the county’s uninsured,  is supporting enrollment efforts. Some of Covered OC’s members have received grants to fund outreach efforts for explaining the reforms to primarily non-English speaking communities and assisting enrollment in the exchange.

Nguyen announced Tuesday that last weekend she sponsored a town hall in Little Saigon featuring the participation of the county’s Social Services and Health Care agencies along with CalOptima, the county’s managed health care plan for the poor and elderly.

In addition, state Sen. Lou Correa and Assemblyman Tom Daly are co-sponsoring a town hall in Santa Ana to answer questions about the exchange. The meeting is scheduled Oct. 4 at the Southwest Senior Center, 2201 W. McFadden Ave.

There were also concerns raised this week about a website with a name similar to Covered California’s site, which is Coveredca.com. The other site, CoveredCalifornia.com, is not yet operational and not affiliated with the purchasing exchange.

Health care reform supporters around the nation have expressed concern that opponents might create falsely named websites to disrupt enrollment. In fact, participants in a discussion at Democraticunderground.com called for hackers to take down CoveredCalifornia.com on the assumption that it is deceptive.

But the owner of the site, David Moore, an insurance broker based in Tennessee who was reached by Voice of OC Tuesday, said he has no political agenda and created the website to educate consumers on buying health insurance. He said he plans to start sites in every state. He also said Covered California has contacted him with their concerns about the site but that it is legal.

One of the next steps in instituting the purchasing exchanges is certification of insurance agents who can enroll consumers in the exchange. Some 15,000 agents have registered for certification, with the first 3,000 expected to be certified by the end of the week, Sol said.

Enrollment in the exchange will continue through March 31 of next year, but anyone seeking coverage beginning on Jan, 1 must enroll by Dec. 15.

Amy DePaul is a Voice of OC contributing writer and a lecturer in the UC Irvine literary journalism program. You can reach her directly at depaula@uci.edu.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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