The Affordable Care Act takes full effect on January 1, 2014. Will California be ready?


Uninsured? Here Are Alternative Options for Medical Care

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Millions of still Californians remain uninsured, either by choice or immigration status. (Getty Images)

Millions of still Californians remain uninsured, either by choice or immigration status. (Getty Images)

About 5 million Californians have new health coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), both through the Covered California health insurance exchange and the expansion of Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.

But millions of others remain uninsured – by circumstance or by choice.

Up to half of California’s uninsured population is made up of immigrants who are not in the country legally, and therefore are excluded from health insurance exchanges, tax credits and most Medi-Cal coverage. Others can’t afford coverage (even if it’s subsidized), choose not to buy insurance, or are unaware that they qualify for free or subsidized insurance.

No matter who they are or what their circumstances, they get sick, too.

Q: I’m uninsured but need medical care. What are my options?

A: It’s hard to pin down exactly how many Californians remain uninsured, but Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, believes there are roughly 3 million of you.

The good news is that more than a third of you are actually eligible for coverage, either Medi-Cal or subsidized insurance through Covered California, says Laurel Lucia, an ACA expert at UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Continue reading

Learn How Your Health Insurance Could Impact Your Tax Bill (Video)

Are you still getting your taxes done ahead of the April 15 deadline? Don’t forget that your 2014 tax bill could be affected by your health insurance.

The federal health law requires that most people have health coverage. If you were insured through work, bought a plan on the new insurance marketplaces or enrolled in Medicare Part A, Medicaid or Tricare you likely met the requirement and can simply check that box off on your tax form. Continue reading

Do High-Deductible Health Plans Cut Costs Now, But Backfire in Long Run?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News

Got a high-deductible health plan? The kind that doesn’t pay most medical bills until they exceed several thousand dollars? You’re a foot soldier who’s been drafted in the war against high health costs.

People with high deductible plans are foot soldiers in the war against high health costs.  

Companies that switch workers into high-deductible plans can reap enormous savings, consultants will tell you — and not just by making employees pay more. Total costs paid by everybody — employer, employee and insurance company — tend to fall in the first year or rise more slowly when consumers have more at stake at the health-care checkout counter whether or not they’re making medically wise choices.

Consumers with high deductibles sometimes skip procedures, think harder about getting treatment and shop for lower prices when they do seek care.

What nobody knows is whether such plans, also sold to individuals and families through the health law’s online exchanges, will backfire. If people choose not to have important preventive care and end up needing an expensive hospital stay years later as a result, everybody is worse off. Continue reading

Millions Need to Be On Alert for Medi-Cal Renewal

(Screen shot of California's Department of Health Care Services website)

(Screen shot of California’s Department of Health Care Services website)

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

I spend the majority of my time (and space) writing about the new state health insurance exchange, Covered California.

But the behemoth in California’s Affordable Care Act implementation is Medi-Cal, the state’s decades-old version of the federal Medicaid program, which provides publicly funded insurance to low-income residents.

About 12 million Californians are in Medi-Cal now. That’s roughly one in three state residents. By comparison, about 1.4 million Californians are enrolled in Covered California.

Given its size, Medi-Cal’s annual renewal process is now one of its greatest challenges. Continue reading

Uninsured Rate for Latino Students Down Sharply at State Universities

Covered California enrollment fair in Pasadena, CA in Nov. 2013. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Covered California enrollment fair in Pasadena, Nov. 2013. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

The rate of uninsured students at two California State University campuses dropped dramatically overall, and Latino students in particular saw a steep decline, according to poll results released Wednesday.

At Cal State LA, the Latino uninsured rate dropped by 75 percent since 2013.

Seven CSU campuses now have an estimated 7 percent overall rate of uninsured students, according to Walter Zelman, director of the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, which works to sign up uninsured students.

This is a population — the so-called “young invincibles” — that traditionally has high rates of the uninsured. Zelman pointed out they also happen to be the healthy, lower-cost enrollees that health insurance plans and Covered California would love to have in their patient mix. Continue reading

Feinstein and Boxer Say Pregnant Women Should Get Special Obamacare Enrollment

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are calling on California’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, to allow women to sign up for coverage when they become pregnant.

Under the current rules of the Affordable Care Act, uninsured women who discover they’re pregnant outside of open enrollment periods can only sign up for coverage once the baby is born. The senators sent a letter to Covered California on Wednesday urging the agency to change the policy to make pregnancy a “qualifying life event” that allows women to enroll in coverage at that time.

“Allowing women to purchase health insurance during pregnancy will increase access to care and has the potential to improve health, save lives, and reduce future health costs,” the senators wrote. Continue reading

More Obamacare Tax-Time Lessons

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

The second round of Obamacare open enrollment is over, but your paperwork may not be.

It’s tax time.

And as I suspected, this is shaping up to be a stressful period for many Californians who remained uninsured or purchased health insurance from Covered California.

Q: I had a Covered California plan for eight months last year before I moved to Texas. But I still haven’t received a 1095-A form from Covered California. What should I do?

A: When Travis Choma, 35, moved from California to Dallas in August, he arranged to cancel his Covered California health plan and start a new plan from the federal health insurance exchange, (healthcare.gov). Continue reading

Latino, African American Enrollment Up on Covered California

Screenshot from the Spanish language website for Covered California.

Screenshot from the Spanish language website for Covered California.

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

The percentage of Latinos and African Americans who signed up for subsidized health coverage through California’s insurance exchange increased during the second annual open enrollment period, officials announced Thursday.

About 37 percent of subsidized enrollees are Latino, up from 31 percent during the first enrollment period ending in March 2014, according to data released by Covered California. That’s a 20 percent increase. About 4 percent are African American, up from 3 percent last year.

The numbers, released by Covered California during its monthly board meeting, include only those enrollees eligible for subsidies who responded to questions about their race or ethnicity. Continue reading

1.4 Million Californians Sign Up For Obamacare, But State Falls Short of Goal

CCHP enrollment counselor Kristen Chow explains Covered California and federal subsidies to a Chinese-language caller. Currently, more than 90 percent of the HMO's members are ethnically Chinese. (Marcus Teply/KQED)

CCHP enrollment counselor Kristen Chow explains Covered California and federal subsidies to a Chinese-language caller in 2013. (Marcus Teply/KQED)

Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange, has released its latest numbers for 2015 enrollment to date. Among the highlights:

  • Through Feb. 22, the end of open enrollment, 495,073 newly enrolled in a Covered California plan. Total enrollments numbered 1.4 million. AP is reporting that falls 300,000 short of the state’s goal for signups.
  • More than 780,000 new enrollees in Medi-Cal
  • As of Dec. 14, 2014, 92 percent of Covered California participants renewed for 2015.
  • Ninety percent of both old and new enrollees are eligible for a subsidy to help pay premiums.

Covered California said the number of new enrollees was consistent with its forecast.

A spokesperson for the exchange said it did not yet have a total number for all Californians who have enrolled under the Affordable Care Act, including those who who now receive Medi-Cal,  Continue reading

Read Transcript of Today’s Oral Arguments in Supreme Court Obamacare Case

Today’s oral arguments in the latest Obamacare case to come before the Supreme Court are now over. Proponents of the law are worried that if the plaintiffs prevail, canceling subsidies to insurance buyers in the federal exchange, the Affordable Care Act could be heading for a death spiral. The Supreme Court website has put up a full transcript of the proceedings, which you can read here. A report on today’s events from Associated Press follows.

Here is AP’s write-up of today’s events:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court was sharply divided Wednesday in the latest challenge to President Barack Obama’s health overhaul, this time over the tax subsidies that make insurance affordable for millions of Americans.

The justices aggressively questioned lawyers on both sides of what Justice Elena Kagan called “this never-ending saga,” the latest politically charged fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts said almost nothing in nearly 90 minutes of back-and-forth, and Justice Anthony Kennedy’s questions did not make clear how he will come out. Roberts was the decisive vote to uphold the law in 2012.

Otherwise, the same liberal-conservative divide that characterized the earlier case was evident. Continue reading