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Sign-up volume high for California health exchange as deadline looms

SACRAMENTO — Californians were responding to Monday's deadline for gaining health insurance with heavy activity on the marketplace's website and call centers.

Covered California, the agency operating the exchange, had no current plans to extend the deadline by another day, as the Obama administration announced it was doing for the 36 states using the federal health insurance exchange. California runs its own exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Those who enroll by the end of Monday will have coverage starting Jan. 1, but will have until Jan. 6 to pay for their policies.

Agency spokesman Larry Hicks said California's enrollment website has been running smoothly with no technical problems.

"I can say that volume was heavy, and that was expected," he said. "There were no reported performance issues, and none are expected today."

Enrollments have surged on the California health exchange as Monday's deadline approached. Only about 30,000 people signed up for coverage in October, the first month that the exchange was open for business, but enrollments had been running about 20,000 or more a day over the past week.

More than 109,000 people had signed up for coverage through the end of November, the last official figures released by Covered California show.

While Monday was the deadline to get coverage that will start in the new year, consumers will have until the end of March to buy coverage and avoid the federal tax penalty under the federal health reform law.

"(Monday)'s an important milestone, but it's not the end," Hicks said. "We expect to enroll tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands more through March 31."

Last week, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said he was optimistic the exchange will meet its enrollment target of 700,000 by the end of March.

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