More than 18,000 Kern County residents signed up for health plans made possible by the Affordable Care Act during the first open enrollment period for those plans, according to new local data the state released Wednesday.
Between Oct. 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, 18,083 people got health insurance through the state's health insurance exchange, nearly 91 percent of whom were eligible for subsidies, according to Covered California and the California Department of Health Care Services
Combined, the subsidized and unsubsidized buyers in Kern County comprise 1.3 percent of enrollees in California.
Kern’s numbers were low to Bill Phelps, chief of programs for Clinica Sierra Vista, which serves low-income patients and helped many of them enroll in either private insurance or Medi-Cal.
Other Central Valley counties with similar demographics managed to sign up more people than Kern, Phelps said.
“I don’t think there were enough agencies doing enrollment programs here, and some agencies didn’t have their counselors certified until very late, or even after March 31,” he said.
The state also broke down Wednesday which plans local buyers were purchasing.
The most popular of five available levels of health insurance coverage was silver, chosen by 11,335 consumers, or 62.7 percent.
That was followed by bronze (26.7 percent), gold (4.8 percent), platinum (4.3 percent) and minimum coverage (1.5 percent).
The Central Valley counties of Kern, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare represented about 8 percent of the statewide enrollment of nearly 1.4 million.
In those nine counties, 108,752 signed up through March 31, a 69 percent increase from the 64,189 enrollments recorded through Feb. 28.
"There was a surge at the end," said Covered California spokesman Larry Hicks. "We're very happy with it, but we're not satisfied.
"The end of open enrollment was not the finish line. In many ways, it was just the beginning."
Open enrollment resumes in the fall, but consumers can sign up all year if they have had a change in eligibility such as losing a job, having a child or getting married.
Consumers who do not have health insurance through Covered California or elsewhere are subject to a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.