SACRAMENTO -- California is launching its version of the federal health care law, despite a government shutdown.

"Covered California" begins open enrollment today with coverage beginning on Jan. 1, 2014.

The 5.3 million Californians who don't have health insurance -- because of a pre-existing condition or because they can't afford it -- can begin applying today.

Officials do not expect a wave of applications immediately because comparing the plans and filling out the application will be time-consuming.

Local Center Open for Business

State Senator Ed Hernandez helped kick things off at a call center in Rancho Cordova this morning, where staffers are on hand to answer questions from some of the 5 million Californians now elegible for insurance. There were some hiccups: the exchange's website went dark and lagged for a while due to too much traffic, something seen across the country. Even in the afternoon there was a bit of a lag on the site. 

"The good news is, people have three months to sign up for coverage that will start January 1," Covered California Director Peter Lee said. 

Lee says this is a marathon, not a race. There's plenty of time to sign up for coverage. He's touting four different coverage options now available. You can see the different options at

How do I sign up? 

There are several different ways to sign up for health care coverage through Covered California. The first, online, users can do all on their own. 

Lee runs our exchange, Covered California and says that is a great place to sign up and that users are walked through all the necessary steps.

Here's how you can get started. You must first create an account on Covered California. Watch the video below for a step-by-step guide to signing up. 

How to create an account on Covered California

Get confused on the site, go ahead and phone in a question to the call center in Rancho Cordova, or just skip the web altogether and do that anyway. You can call Covered California to sign up at 1-800-300-1506.

"We've got thousands of people trained across the state: licensed insurance agents, certified counselors, people in county offices," Lee said. 

Assistance is offered in a variety of different languages, too. Our local office is located in Rancho Cordova at 10877 White Rock Road (on the second floor).

Have you signed up for health benefits through Covered California? We would love to hear about your experience. Tell us in the comment section below how it went.

You can get even more health care information through our Health Portal