Healthy Choices

Covered California gears up for 3rd year of health care signups

Kristy Farrington, a Sacramento State student, looks at a pamphlet on Covered California. The state has an estimated 2 million people without health insurance.
Kristy Farrington, a Sacramento State student, looks at a pamphlet on Covered California. The state has an estimated 2 million people without health insurance. Sacramento Bee file

Gearing up for a third year of health care sign-ups, Covered California officials announced Thursday they are doubling efforts to reach an estimated 2 million residents who are uninsured, primarily Latinos and African Americans.

Those efforts include staffing 500 storefront locations, employing thousands of enrollment counselors, launching a $29 million advertising campaign and a statewide bus tour, starting Nov. 1 in East Los Angeles, all designed to encourage more Californians to come under the health care umbrella.

One of the biggest hurdles, said Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee, is that more than a third – 36 percent – of uninsured Californians don’t realize they’re eligible for financial subsidies, according to a recent survey. That compared with 84 percent of uninsured who were aware of the existing federal tax penalty for going without health care coverage.

“This lack of understanding of the subsidy is a striking finding,” said Lee, who said too many still feel health care is unaffordable for them. Noting that roughly 200,000 Covered California enrollees currently pay less than $50 a month in premiums, “That is affordability made real,” Lee said.

Last year, Lee said Covered California focused on Latino communities and was able to increase the number of enrollees from 2014. As of June, the ethnic breakdown of current Covered California enrollees is 37.6 percent white, 29.8 percent Latino, 22.9 percent Asian and 2.4 percent African American.

The official enrollment period runs Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, when uninsured Californians can officially sign up for 2016 health care coverage. Until then, the 1.3 million current enrollees can renew their policies, and anyone can go online to compare policies and find walk-in sites for in-person help. On the Covered California website, there are lookups to find local events, insurance agents and storefront counselors.

Lee also noted that tax penalties for not having health care coverage will increase again in 2016. Under the federal health care law, those without health insurance in 2016 may be subject to a federal tax penalty, which starts at $695 per person in a household or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. For a family of four earning $70,000 a year that chooses not to purchase health care coverage for 2016, the tax penalty could be $2,085, according to Covered California.

Covered California offers help in 12 languages, including Armenian, Farsi, Hmong, Tagalog and Vietnamese, both by phone and online. For help, call 800-300-1506 (Monday through Saturday) or go online to: coveredca.com.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck

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