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California's Health Marketplace Opening Through the Eyes of One Uninsured Woman

Oct 2, 2013

Credit Edge Hill University, Learning Services Learning Technology Development / Creative Commons License /

Covered California opened for business Tuesday. By mid-afternoon, seventeen thousand phone inquiries had been made to the state exchange call centers. Health Care Reporter Pauline Bartolone in Sacramento has the story of one uninsured woman who went shopping for new coverage online.  

Even before the Covered California call center in Rancho Cordova opened, there were floating balloons and words of congratulations.

Health leaders participated in a kick off celebration. Before the end of the first hour, hundreds of callers were on hold waiting to talk to agents about enrollment. Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee.

“California’s doing a great job, but this is national. This is the entire nation saying health care is a right, not a privilege. It’s happening in every state in the country, it’s a new era for the nation, which is truly historic,” said Lee.

The day also marked a new era for forty-one year old Melissa Martinez of Davis, California.

“I was diagnosed with Lupus 19 years ago, I was 22. And I have seen it all, I’ve had good times and bad times,” said Martinez.

Martinez works at home as a branding and marketing consultant. And she’s uninsured.

“This last bout of insuring myself it was about $600 a month, and my meds cuz I have lupus are about $600 a month, so I had to pick one or the other. So I let my insurance go,” said Martinez.

For the past three years, Martinez says she’s been paying out of pocket to see her doctors, and buying her prescriptions from Canada.  She said the scariest part of being uninsured isn’t having an autoimmune disease – it’s the fear of health problems she can’t anticipate - like accidents, or another serious illness.   

“It’s been very scary to think about you know, ‘what if?’, and ‘then what,’” said Martinez.

So just after the Covered California’s website was made available for open enrollment, we asked Martinez to log on. At one point, the screen went blank. But it came back, and she was able to find and use the site “shop and compare” tool.

“They asked for basic information… household, zip… there’s three of us, and I’ve definitely been working about a quarter time,” said Martinez.

Martinez is single, has two kids. Because of her illness, her income was limited to thirty thousand dollars this past year. When she finished entering her information on the computer, a handful of plans popped up. She says the silver plan looks right to her - it has a premium of about a hundred dollars a month, and a $500 deductible.

“A $100 dollars a month, versus $600 is amazing. It really is,” said Martinez.

People with different medical and financial needs may have different opinions about the affordability of the available plans. Even Martinez says there are a lot of unknowns about the health law. But she says thinks the federal law is a step in the right direction, and her chronic health problem isn’t the primary reason she’s planning on buying coverage soon.  

“I don’t want to be that person that ends up going to the ER every time there’s a common cold, or there’s a situation because that is just perpetuating the issue, and I think if enough people get educated about how this system works, and if everybody goes into it, we’ll have a solid base,” said Martinez.

By mid afternoon, Covered California says, its site had 5 million web hits. But there were still some problems. The site wasn’t ready to enroll employers in the exchange set up for small businesses. But implementers of the law in California are looking at long term success. California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley.

“This is just the beginning, it is a marathon and not a sprint, we are at the starting line. This is going to take weeks and months and years to really experience the full benefit of the Affordable Care Act.,” said Dooley.

There is one other thing that California health policymakers don’t know yet – enrollment numbers will be not be released until November 15th.