The open enrollment window for the state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, began Nov. 1. Health officials say purchasing coverage will be more affordable than usual for many people thanks to newly available federal financial help.
The additional subsidies come out of the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion post-pandemic stimulus package. The plan includes an estimated $3 billion for the state marketplace through 2022, according to Covered California.
For some Covered California consumers, the new aid will layer on top of existing monthly premium assistance they were receiving from the state. California recently moved to make families earning more than $100,000 a year eligible for financial help.
California health and human services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly says under the Biden administration, the state has a “tremendous chance to build on the Affordable Care Act and get not just more Californians covered, but more Californians getting help to pay for that coverage.”
Since the implementation of the American Rescue Plan, more than half of marketplace enrollees pay $10 or less per month for name-brand health insurance, according to Covered California’s data.
Covered California estimates that 1.1 million low and middle-income people who are currently uninsured would qualify for these subsidies, and that 85% of them would pay no monthly premium. Of that group, an estimated 106,000 live in Northern California and the Sacramento Valley.
The marketplace has had to increase monthly premiums in some years — a problem that analysts said got worse during Donald Trump’s presidency because of a lack of federal support.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said Monday that those days are over and most Californians can now afford to buy through the exchange without severe financial stress.
“All those horror stories we heard … dismiss that, because the reality is you’re getting more access to better care at a lower price,” Becerra said. “It’s time. We can do this and take advantage.”
The former California Attorney General said the challenge now is finding those who are still uninsured and convincing them to enroll.
Californians must carry health insurance or pay a penalty, which ranges depending on income level and length of time without coverage. The state established its own insurance mandate in 2020 after the federal government removed the penalty established under the Affordable Care Act. For adults who go uninsured for an entire year the penalties begin at $800.
Last year, 94% of Californians had health insurance, the highest number since 2001 according to a new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. But authors say many people, especially people from marginalized groups, delayed medical treatments during the pandemic despite being insured because they couldn’t easily access care.
“We’ve seen during this pandemic the devastation that individuals without health care coverage have faced, and the fact that sometimes that coverage doesn’t do exactly what we hope it does,” Ghaly said. “Signing up here for Covered California not only might open the gateway to incredible coverage, but you’ll have a partner and advocate for improving the coverage over time.”
The enrollment window lasts until Jan. 15. Consumers who want their coverage to begin Jan. 1 must sign up by Dec. 1. People can find out more about their health plan options here, or they can contact Covered California for help signing up.
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