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California mulls Obamacare exchange backup plan

By Lewis Krauskopf

(Reuters) - California said on Thursday it would consider a soft launch of its Obamacare online health insurance exchange if tests of the new system next month show it isn't ready to accommodate wide public access.

If the system is not ready, the exchange would at first use an "aided enrollment" in which counselors help California residents sign up over the phone or in person.

Under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law, millions of uninsured Americans will be able to sign up for new government subsidized health insurance plans starting on October 1 via online exchanges in each state.

But the scale of the effort, and the political resistance to the reform law in many states, has led to delays in implementation and raised questions about whether all 50 states will be ready by that date.

California, which embraced Obamacare early on, is considered one of the most crucial states for the administration's enrollment effort. The Covered California exchange said current tests of its technology are going well, with more complete results expected in early September, according to spokesman Oscar Hidalgo.

"So far everything is looking good," Hidalgo said. "Until the tests are done, we don't know the full extent of the functionality ... We are working to be fully functional by October 1."

Covered California discussed the issue with insurers on Wednesday as part of a regularly scheduled weekly meeting.

Earlier this month, Oregon decided to use a limited enrollment option in the first weeks of October to work through technical and other potential issues with the exchange.

Covered California aims to sign up 1 million to 1.4 million people in 2014. Overall, exchanges across the country are expected to provide coverage for 7 million people next year.

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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