Now topping more than 3 million, the number of Californians who have enrolled in a private health care plan or in Medi-Cal through the state's health insurance exchange will likely rise by about 500,000 people who started but did not finish their applications by Monday's midnight deadline, exchange officials said Thursday.
At a news conference, Peter Lee, executive director of the Covered California exchange, told reporters that of the half-million individuals who had started their applications in the last week of March, at least 20,000 had finished their applications by Tuesday.
During a phone call from Washington D.C., where he had just testified before two congressional panels about Covered California's achievements, Lee estimated that half of that group will be eligible for a private insurance plan and the rest eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's health program for the poor.
Californians who could not access the exchange's website because of the crush of late-minute applicants have until April 15 to finish their applications because of the grace period Covered California extended on Monday.
As long as they can attest that they tried to use the website, Lee said, they can work with Covered California's certified insurance agents, enrollment counselors, educators or call center operators to help them complete their applications.
"If you have made an effort to apply and got stuck, we will help you get across'' the finish line, Lee said.
Still more Californians can enroll in a health plan through Covered California by Nov. 15 -- when the next enrollment period begins -- if they are eligible for "qualifying events,'' including losing a job, having a baby, getting a divorce or moving to California.
About 6 million legal California residents were uninsured before Jan. 1, when the Obamacare health coverage took effect.
Lee told reporters that from Oct. 1 through March 31, enrollment in private insurance plans through Covered California hit 1.2 million, including 416,000 individuals who signed up in March, the highest single month of enrollments. Of the 1.2 million, 87 percent are eligible for federal tax subsidies. During that same time, he said, another 1.9 million people had signed up for Medi-Cal.
Lee stressed that the totals do not include people who signed up for health plans outside the exchange.
Health plans on the exchange, he said, have reported that 85 percent of enrollees have paid their first month's premium.
Lee also noted an uptick in enrollments by Latinos and adults ages 18 and 34, whose numbers have consistently been lower than the exchange's projections.
Because the two groups tend to be younger and healthier, insurers had hoped to attract more of them to help balance the risk pool of enrollees against older and sicker enrollees. And based on the new numbers, Lee said, "I think we can be reasonably confident that the 2015 rates will reflect the good mix we brought in.''
For example, since Feb. 28 the percentage of Latino sign-ups has gone from 22 percent to 26 percent, up to 252,167. Lee believes that by April 15, the Latino numbers will reach 265,000, the number the exchange had projected through March 31.
He attributed the Latino surge to a concerted effort by Covered California over the past few months that saw millions of dollars poured into increased marketing and outreach to Latinos. Still, he acknowledged that "we have more work to do'' in both the Latino and African-American communities, even though the 25,886 African-American enrollments exceeded the projected 22,000 by March 31.
"This is not the end,'' Lee said of the overall preliminary enrollment totals. "This is the first round of open enrollment. We have a lot to learn, and there have been a lot of bumps along the way.''
But, he said, "California and Californians can be proud of what they have done.''
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-920-5343. Follow her at Twitter.com/taseipel.