SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Time is running out for those who have not yet signed up for healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
A surge in last minute enrollment for coverage forced the controversial national website to shutdown for several hours on the final day before potential fines kick in.
There were long lines outside local government offices and phone lines were jammed as well.
The surge comes as a new report suggests at last 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans have obtained health coverage since the October launch of the so-called "Obamacare" plans and Medicaid marketed by state exchanges including Covered California.
"The problem that we have seen from the provider standpoint is that not all of the providers are providers on the plans", says Santa Maria primary care physician Dr. Michael Schrager says the ACA rollout and enrollment has forced him to turn some of his current patients away.
"We offer to see our patients all the time, if a patient is an established patient and they are on a plan that we are not a provider for, then we'll try to make some arrangements and see them", Dr. Schrager says, "but it gets complicated because they then have to go to specialists who are on that plan."
The newly released report by the Rand Research Group also suggests fewer than one million previously insured people were left uninsured because their old plans did not meet the new ACA requirements.
"The insurance industry has taken it upon themselves to reduce the amount they pay the providers drastically, so for the most part many of the patients that we see that are now covered on that can't come to our office and be seen", Dr. Schrager says, "they need to go to a place that for the most part, I think, that's going to be a subsidized entity like our Community Health Centers."
As the Monday midnight deadline fast approaches, latest numbers from Covered California show more than 1.2 million uninsured Californians have now been enrolled in some type of coverage plan.
"We try to encourage the patients to have a primary care provider, I think that's really important in the healthcare system, I feel real strongly about that", Dr. Schrager says, "I'm happy that patients have coverage, I'm a little unhappy that they are effectively not able to see their same doctor all of the time."
More than 1.5 million have qualified for expanded Medi-Cal benefits including more than 9,000 people in San Luis Obispo County and more than 11,000 in Santa Barbara County.
"The expanded Medi-Cal part of our population from a doctor's standpoint actually re-imburses the doctor far better than the private plans that are being sold in California from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Dr. Schrager says it could be several years before the dust finally settles for insurances companies, doctors and other healthcare provides as well as insured patients on what has been a rocky roll out to the landmark ACA.
"It's a strange situation right now", Dr. Schrager says, "I'm really hoping the insurance industry will get behind really wanting to compensate the doctors that are doing the primary care, taking care of these patients and trying to save money in the healthcare system in the long run."
For those without any other insurance who do not enroll in some form of coverage through the Covered California state exchange by midnight Monday a potential fine of 95 dollars or one percent of your income is mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act.
To enroll online go to: https://www.coveredca.com/