Health & Medicine

Covered California extends signup deadline; health advocates vow to fight repeal of Obamacare

How would repealing Obamacare affect California?

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, chair of the Senate Health Committee, warns of a major financial hit on millions of Californians if Obamacare is repealed.
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State Sen. Ed Hernandez, chair of the Senate Health Committee, warns of a major financial hit on millions of Californians if Obamacare is repealed.

Ignore the political uncertainty swirling around Obamacare: If you want health insurance coverage in California starting Jan. 1, sign up this week.

That’s the message this week from officials at Covered California, the state’s official marketplace for the Affordable Care Act. Following a recent rush of new enrollees, officials extended the signup deadline until midnight Saturday for those who want their coverage to start Jan. 1.

In the last two days, more than 25,000 Californians have signed up for health care coverage, nearly double signups from the same two-day period last year, officials announced Wednesday. Overall, more than 153,000 individuals have signed up during the current open enrollment season, which runs through Jan. 31. In addition, about 1.2 million who were previously enrolled have reupped their health coverage.

It’s too soon to tell if the enrollment boost is affected by uncertainty over President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to “replace and repeal” the health care law soon after his inauguration, officials said. Republican lawmakers haven’t yet clarified how quickly they plan to move against the Affordable Care Act or what its replacement will be.

“We’re open for business,” Covered California spokesman Roy Kennedy said. “Things haven’t changed for 2017, so we’re telling people who are new to a policy or are renewing their policy that we’re here to help them get insurance and get into the right plan.”

The signup season ends Jan. 31, but Kennedy said consumers are “highly encouraged” to sign up now, rather than wait until the last minute.

“Even going a month without insurance you’re rolling the dice,” Kennedy said, risking an unexpected health care crisis that could rack up medical bills. Those who enroll by Jan. 31 would not receive insurance coverage until March 1.

The enrollment changes came as more than 200 health care advocates gathered Tuesday in downtown Sacramento to urge solidarity in fighting the anticipated rollback of the Affordable Care Act, cutbacks in Medicare expansion programs and other health care changes proposed by the incoming Trump administration.

“We cannot go back,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide consumer advocacy organization. He said California’s congressional delegation needs to be educated about the “catastrophic consequences” of repealing the Affordable Care Act without an alternative plan in place, especially among low-income residents in the Central Valley.

An estimated 5 million Californians are insured under the Affordable Care Act, either through Covered California plans or Medi-Cal expansion.

“We’re not going to let one election take back all the progress we’ve made so far,” said state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who was behind legislation to enroll all California children, regardless of immigration status, in health coverage. That effort, estimated to cost the state about $132 million and cover about 117,000 children, took effect May 1.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, warned that people in low-income areas could see hefty premium increases and over-reliance on emergency rooms if millions of residents lose federal subsidies and go without coverage because it’s no longer required.

For help enrolling in Covered California, go to CoveredCa.com or call 800-300-1506.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck

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