In response to a last-minute surge in health-insurance sign-ups, Covered California — the state’s arm of the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare — gave a two-week deadline extension to anyone who started the enrollment process by March 31. In the last week alone, 156,000 state residents signed up for one of the many health-care networks mandated by the act, and more than 1.2 million have done so overall, which is about twice the initial goal set by Covered California. While no numbers exist specific to Santa Barbara County, the six counties making up the Central Coast saw 62,000 new enrollments. How many of those were uninsured prior is not known. In Santa Barbara, three new exchange plans were offered: Kaiser (which has a minimal presence in the county), Blue Cross, and Blue Shield.
Covered California also signed up an additional 1.5 million state residents for MediCal, including 11,539 in Santa Barbara County, although officials believe that up to 30,000 residents could qualify. Luckily, there’s no deadline for enrolling in MediCal, but it’s for naturalized U.S. citizens who make no more than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 for individuals and $33,000 for a family of four.
Santa Barbara still has many Obamacare bugs to work out, particularly that Sansum Clinic, the largest health-care provider in the county, has no contract with Blue Shield, which could affect a small but significant slice of its patient population. Primary care providers are concerned at the low rates offered by the Blue Shield exchange; some have refused to accept those patients, and others have terminated their agreements with Blue Shield.
But the big news, according to County Health spokesperson Susan Klein-Rothschild, is that thousands of residents who weren’t covered before now are, so they can seek ongoing care rather than just descend upon emergency rooms en masse. “And that’s fantastic,” she said.