California's health care exchanges not harmed by ruling, officials say

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 12:12 pm

The Obama administration's decision not to penalize large firms for failing to provide health insurance to workers next year will not harm California's implementation of the health care overhaul, officials said Tuesday.

California is creating an exchange to sell insurance to individuals and small employers, not to large firms, spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said.

Neither the timing nor the content of policies offered on the exchange – Covered California – will be affected, Gonzales said.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said that about 1.5 million uninsured Californians currently work in firms of 50 employees or more that would be affected by the new federal policy.

Those workers, if not offered coverage at work, will be required to buy insurance on their own or face at least a $95 penalty next year.

But Jones said many of them would be eligible for federally subsidized coverage to purchase policies through Covered California.

"It will not have a long-lasting effect, nor does it undermine the overall effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act," Jones said of Tuesday's announcement.

Anthony Wright, director of Health Access, agreed that impacts will be insignificant if penalties are delayed only one year.

Ultimately, penalties are needed to prod large, holdout employers to provide coverage and to raise funds for the health care overhaul, Wright said.

"Our concern is that it is a crucial provision for long-term sustainability of the system," he said.

Call Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @jwsanders55.

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