Obamacare

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

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Obamacare: More Than 3.3 Million Californians Signed Up

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013, the day the marketplace opened. Open enrollment ended Tuesday. (Angela Hart/KQED)

The final numbers are in from the first open enrollment for Covered California. The exchange closed at midnight Tuesday, an extension of two weeks from the original March 31 deadline for those who had tried to enroll but were unsuccessful for technical reasons. Officials reported Thursday that just shy of 1.4 million Californians signed up since October 1.

“The people enrolling continue to get younger, continue to get more diverse and reflect the state of California.” 
An additional 1.9 million people are newly enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for people who are low income, and several hundred thousand more people have been deemed “likely eligible” by the state. They are awaiting final determination of eligibility.

At a press conference in Sacramento Thursday morning, Peter Lee walked through some of the demographics. Covered California had drawn criticism for its flawed outreach to Latinos earlier this year, but the agency had made a “concerted effort to expand and build on outreach,” Lee said. “That hard work has paid off.”

From April 1-15, 39 percent of the sign ups were Latino, Hispanic or Latin origin. Just over 305,000 Latinos are now enrolled, just a bit under 28 percent of all enrollees. That’s up from 21 percent at the end of January. Continue reading

Obamacare Means New Challenges for California’s Safety Net Providers

Natividad Medical Center is a public hospital in Salinas. It's part of the system of safety net institutions that serve Californians with nowhere else to go. Even as health reform is implemented, millions of Californians will remain uninsured. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

Natividad Medical Center is a public hospital in Salinas. It’s part of the system of safety net institutions that serve Californians with nowhere else to go. Even as health reform is implemented, millions of Californians will remain uninsured. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

By Lisa Morehouse

California leads the nation in the number of people getting insurance through the Affordable Care Act. But now that the final deadline has come and gone on Tuesday, millions are still left uninsured. These people will still turn to community clinics and public hospitals for care — they are the safety net institutions that serve Californians with nowhere else to go. But as the ACA is implemented, those institutions are facing changes.

One such place is Centro Medico. It’s tucked away in a corner of a shopping center in Cathedral City, a predominantly Latino bedroom community sandwiched between the resort towns of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage. Here is where many hospitality workers who serve the neighboring resorts live.

Centro Medico’s manager, Daisy Morfin, sees a lot of pent-up need for medical care. Since enrollment in the Affordable Care Act started last fall, she says the clinic is getting up to 10 new patients a day.

Many are people who have qualified for health insurance for the first time in years — or ever. Continue reading

Two Different Reactions to Obamacare

The 2014 enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act closes tonight. For some people the new health law is a godsend. Others barely noticed its existence.

Donna Zeuli and her husband lost their insurance when he retired two years ago. Private insurers denied them both because of pre-existing conditions and the COBRA plan offered through his union was too expensive. So they decided to take their chances and wait for Obamacare to take effect.

Then, last fall, Zeuli had a mini stroke at her home in Magalia, Calif., in the foothills of Chico, and was rushed to the ER.

“You can’t believe the angst I had about not having insurance,” says Zeuli, 55. “The only thing I could think about was how much is this going to cost me. Do the minimum. But make sure I’m not gonna die.” Continue reading

Deadline Tuesday: Final Days to Enroll for 2014 Health Insurance

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Time’s up.

After various extensions, the deadline to finish signing up for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act is here. People have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to complete their applications.

If you don’t have insurance you may have to pay a penalty on your taxes next year — as much as 1 percent of income.

Dana Howard from the state marketplace Covered California says the deadline is real. There will be no more grace periods for people who encounter long lines or technical difficulties on the website. There will be no special dispensation this time for people who wait until the last minute.

“We’re not making up a new policy for people who have not taken this seriously,” Howard said. “This is your health. This is a new law.” Continue reading

Despite Obamacare, Big Gap in Substance Abuse Treatment

Jessica Schabel, 19, is under treatment at the Impact Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Pasadena for heroin and methamphetamine addiction. Her insurance benefits only allowed for 30 days, but the facility paid for her to stay an additional 30 days to continue treatment. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Jessica Schabel, 19, is under treatment at the Impact Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Pasadena for heroin and methamphetamine addiction. Her insurance benefits only allowed for 30 days, but the facility paid for her to stay an additional 30 days to continue treatment. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

The nation’s health law has promised sweeping changes to help millions of people with drug or alcohol addiction get treatment. Many unable to afford services in the past now can receive them without first landing in jail or an emergency room, health officials say.

An old law bars many residential drug treatment centers from billing Medicaid.
“There is no illness that will be more favorably affected [by the Affordable Care Act] than substance abuse,” said A. Thomas McLellan, former U.S. deputy drug czar who now heads Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia. “This is the beginning of substance abuse disorders being part of mainstream health care.”

The law requires that substance abuse treatment be offered to people newly insured through the insurance exchanges or Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor and disabled.

But serious impediments remain to widespread access, including a shortage of substance abuse providers and available beds nationwide, say treatment experts and government officials. Continue reading

Analysis: Nearly 500,000 Uninsured Now Covered on California Exchange

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

No one knows yet exactly how many of the 1.2 million people enrolled so far in Covered California were previously uninsured — but one person has a pretty good guess.

“Over the next few years at the exchange, we expect to see much higher numbers of the previously uninsured.” 

Ken Jacobs, chair of the Labor Center at UC-Berkeley, projects about 39 percent of enrollees were previously uninsured, or roughly 468,000 people. (With Thursday’s announcement of an additional 70,000 people enrolled on Covered California during the grace period, it’s reasonable that the number of previously-insured-now-covered will rise.)

That means it’s likely that 61 percent of Covered California enrollees already had health insurance.

“One reason is you have to look at who was expected to enroll in the exchange, and there were two large groups,” Jacobs said. “One of those groups is the people in the individual market.” Continue reading

Covered California Now Above 1.2 Million Enrollees — with More Coming

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee testified before Congress Thursday morning. He used his 5-minutes to give a quick recap of what’s gone right on the nation’s biggest state-based exchange.

First, Lee released numbers of where Covered California stands as of Monday, the day open enrollment formally ended (although those who could not finish due to technical problems have until April 15 to finish):

  • 1.2 million people enrolled in Covered California
  • 1.9 million newly-enrolled in Medi-Cal
  • 800,000 people are likely eligible for Medi-Cal but waiting to be confirmed

“This is close to four million Californians,” Lee told the House Committee on Oversight Government Reform. “As of three days ago, California had brought coverage to more than 50 percent of those subsidy-eligible in the exchange.” Continue reading

Why Some Don’t Pay Their Covered California Premium: It’s Not What You Think

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A new analysis finds that many people who signed up for a Covered California plan are likely to drop the coverage for a good reason: they found insurance elsewhere.

Researchers at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center released estimates Wednesday showing that about 20 percent of Covered California enrollees are expected to leave the program because they found a job that offers health insurance. Another 20 percent will see their incomes fall and become eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income.

In addition to the 40 percent of enrollees who move to Medi-Cal or job-based insurance, between 2 and 8 percent of those who sign up for Covered California are estimated to become uninsured, the analysis noted.

20 percent of Covered California enrollees are estimated to move to job-based insurance over the year.
This process — “churn” to those who study health insurance — is well-known in the Medi-Cal and individual insurance market.

Between 53 and 58 percent of Covered California enrollees are expected to stay in a Covered California plan for 12 months, according to the report. This analysis is consistent with a Kaiser Family Foundation study published earlier this year which found that of people who enrolled in an individual insurance plan in 2010, about 48 percent were still in the individual market two years later. Continue reading

Covered California Extends Deadline — With Caveats

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

By Lisa Aliferis and April Dembosky

Because of what it termed a “dramatic spike” in traffic, Covered California announced late Monday that it would extend the March 31 deadline to enroll in a health insurance plan. But the extension has certain limitations.

  • Anyone who has not been able to get on the website for technical reason can apply in person or through the Covered California call center by April 15
  • Anyone who starts an application by midnight Monday (March 31) has until April 15 to finish, either online or in person (this was previously announced)
  • Anyone who is filing a paper application must mail it today; it must be postmarked March 31 — but Covered California strongly encourages people to apply in person as opposed to mailing your application

For consumers who complete an application and select a plan by 11:59pm April 15, insurance will take effect May 1. Continue reading

Covered California Disables Part of Site to Handle Traffic

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Update 7pm: Covered California extended the deadline to sign up for a health insurance plan — with some caveats.

Original Post:

Covered California is seeing “truly unprecedented enrollment,” says executive director Peter Lee. Sunday was the busiest day ever — that includes the days before the last big deadline in December. Just over 500,000 people enrolled in a Covered California plan by Dec 31, 2013. Covered California had reached the 1 million mark earlier in March. More than 1.2 million people had signed up for a plan as of 2am Monday morning. Nearly 400,000 people started applications in the last week.

To help keep the website running in the face of the surging traffic, Covered California is taking parts of it that don’t have to do specifically with enrollment offline. The “preview plans” function is being disabled, although people can still use “shop and compare.”

If traffic gets very high, individuals might find themselves logged out once they have started their application — but before they have picked a health insurance plan. “We know that’s not ideal, but we want to make sure the people that want to enroll can get in the system,” Lee says. Continue reading