By Contributor on December 13, 2013

By Charles Ornstein

The statistics released yesterday from Covered California could bode well for health insurance exchanges that have their act together.

Although the California exchange enrolled 109,000 in October and November combined, the tally from the first seven days in December -- 49,708 -- is nearly three times the pace from a month earlier. Even more people completed applications, the step prior to choosing a plan.

"This has been a phenomenal experience as Californians have expressed in words and action their desire for affordable and quality health insurance coverage," Covered California executive director Peter V. Lee said in a news release. "Enrollments and applications are surging, and we at Covered California -- and our partners -- are stepping up our game to meet the demand."

I talked to Lee last month after California outpaced enrollments on HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace for 36 states, during the month of October. (To be sure, the current sign-ups are still well below the exchange's goals for 2014.)

The news also has been positive out of New York. The New York State of Health exchange announced that, as of Monday, more than 69,500 people had signed up for private health plans through the state's marketplace, according to Capital New York. That's a big increase from a week earlier. As of Nov. 30, 45,000 people had selected a plan through the state's exchange, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported this week in its state-by-state tally.

Donna Frescatore, executive director of New York State of Health, said in a statement: "We are very pleased to see these results, which show that tens of thousands of individuals and across the state are turning to nystateofhealth.ny.gov to access low-cost health insurance."

Even HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace handling enrollment for 36 states, is seeing a surge. In three days last week, after the beleaguered website was fixed, enrollment topped 56,000, The Washington Post reported.

The late success creates both promise and pitfalls. As the Dec. 23 deadline draws closer for plans that begin on Jan. 1, even more consumers are expected to sign up. These enrollments have to be transferred from the exchanges to the insurance companies, a process fraught with problems.

And consumers have to pay their first month's premiums before their coverage takes effect. Errors or delays can derail coverage, at least for January.

(The 2014 open enrollment season ends March 31 and those without coverage will have to pay a penalty.)

HHS said Thursday that it is encouraging health insurers to be flexible and consider extending the payment deadline for coverage that begins Jan. 1. For its part, America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, was skeptical about the Obama administration's attempt to keep changing deadlines. Previously, federal officials extended the deadline to choose a plan from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23.

"With only weeks to go before coverage begins, continued changes to the rules and guidance could exacerbate the challenges associated with helping consumers through the enrollment process," said Karen Ignagni, the group's CEO, in a statement. "Health plans will continue to do everything they can to protect consumers from potential coverage disruptions caused by the ongoing technical problems with HealthCare.gov."

Turning the Corner? In California, At Least, Obamacare Sign-Ups Zoom (via ProPublica, December 13, 2013)

Photo: Flickr user Will O'Neill, creative commons licensed.

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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