500K more Californians enroll for health coverage as US high court mulls Obamacare’s fate
SACRAMENTO, California — Even as the US Supreme Court is reviewing legal text that potentially could derail the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, half a million more people signed up for health plans during the open-enrollment period ending February 22, Covered California announced March 5.
A legal challenge to the Act that could erase tax credits used by millions of Americans to pay insurance premiums, leaving 34 states with unmanageable insurance markets, rising premiums and millions more people uninsured.
The main argument advanced by the law’s opponents is that four words in the 906-page statute permit the use of tax credits only in states that set up their own health insurance exchanges. The Supreme Court appears divided on the issue.
Nonetheless, in California, thousands more residents, mostly Latino and young, signed up for health coverage in the recent open enrollment period.
This year’s mix of 495,073 enrollees is a more diverse and younger population whose choice in plans demonstrated that pricing is a big factor. “It is clear Latinos, African-Americans and young adults not only heard, but acted on Covered California’s increased advertising and person-to-person outreach,” Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said.
Nearly nine out of every 10 new enrollees qualified for some level of financial help for 2015. New enrollments of subsidy-eligible Latinos surged 6 percentage points — from 31 percent in 2014 to 37 percent of the overall subsidy-eligible enrollment in 2015.
The percentage of African-American new enrollees who are subsidy-eligible rose from 3 percent in 2014 to 4 percent in 2015. Young adults 18 to 34 years old moved ahead 5 percentage points in California, to make up 34 percent of new enrollees in 2015, compared with 29 percent a year ago.
Enhancements made by Covered California after the first open-enrollment period — including increased Service Center hours, staffing and more bilingual enrollment assisters — were instrumental in driving strong enrollment numbers.
1.3 million queries
The Service Center handled more than 1.3 million calls from November through February — more than twice the number it did for the same months during the first open-enrollment period. In February 2015 alone, Service Center representatives provided assistance to more than 440,000 callers, compared with 153,000 in February 2014.
Covered California ended its second open-enrollment period February 15, but allowed consumers until midnight on Sunday, Feb. 22, to complete their applications for coverage. (This deadline had been Feb. 20 but was extended by two days to align with the deadline adopted by the federal government.)
“Consumers needed personal assistance from more than 20,000 Certified Insurance Agents, Certified Enrollment Counselors and enrollers at the Covered California Service Center to help them get across the finish line,” Lee said.
Of the subsidy-eligible consumers who enrolled in the exchange, about 63 percent of the total signed up for a Silver plan, the second-least-expensive plan of the four metal tiers.
Among the 10 participating health insurance companies, Kaiser Permanente had the largest percentage increase in new enrollees. It captured 28 percent of the total, compared with 17 percent during the 2014 open-enrollment period.
More Medi-Cal enrollees
Meanwhile, more than 779,000 consumers enrolled in Medi-Cal from November 15 through January 31. Medi-Cal enrollment continues year-round.
Covered California is currently offering consumers who did not realize there was a tax penalty in 2014, or learned they may face a penalty in 2015, a time-limited opportunity to enroll during special enrollment.
Through April 30, 2015, consumers are eligible to apply for health coverage during special enrollment. Applicants must attest to the fact that they did not realize there was a tax penalty by selecting “Informed of Tax Penalty Risk” within a dropdown menu at CoveredCA.com.
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