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California health exchange enrolls fraction of target

  • Gina Macaluso, an employee of Covered California, the state's new health care exchange, provides health insurance at the call center in Rancho Cordova, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO — California's health insurance exchange led the nation in enrollments during its inaugural month of operation, but the 35,000 tentative sign-ups announced Wednesday represented just a fraction of the eventual goal and is a figure that raised as many questions as it answered.

Covered California, the agency steering the health overhaul in the state, aims to sign-up as many as 2.2 million people by the end of next year, either in private insurance coverage or Medicaid services for the needy. For those seeking coverage on the open market, the agency will need to quickly escalate enrollments to hit that target.

The financial success of the health overhaul relies on enrolling millions of healthy, young people across the country. The figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not disclose demographic details showing who was signing on, but Covered California officials said those seeking coverage in the state during the first month of open enrollment were generally older and had previously been denied coverage.

Meanwhile, as many as 1 million Californians who buy individual policies are having their coverage discontinued despite President Barack Obama's promise that it wouldn't happen.

If healthy people avoid buying insurance on the exchanges, it will undermine insurers' business models and ultimately force premiums higher.

If those signing up trend to the elderly and sickly "your insurance is going to cost more and that will discourage those younger people from coming in," warned Lisa Folberg, a vice president with the California Medical Association. "There's still a lot of enrollment and outreach work that needs to be done."

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